General manager Ben Cherington deserves the utmost praise for signing all the right players last offseason. He may not have brought aboard the biggest stars, but he was able to coax the best "gamers" available to join a team that fought hard from the very beginning of the season.
Cherington's signing ranged from guaranteed players to low-risk, high-reward guys. During the offseason, he brought in Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and others. All of those played invaluable roles in 2013.
While Dempster didn't start a single game in the playoffs, he was a contributor to a starting rotation that was exceptionally shaky a season ago. His signing went under the radar during the offseason, but nobody is discounting his importance now. His three appearances out of the bullpen in the postseason were evidence of his willingness to help the Red Sox win in any capacity.
After opening the season with Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey as the top two closers on the roster, manager John Farrell—another offseason acquisition—was forced to go to Uehara in the ninth inning.
That was arguably the best decision of the season. He finished with 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 74.1 innings. If he's not the closer again in 2014, then somebody needs to talk to Farrell.
Ross and Gomes were brought in initially as depth, but each played substantial roles in the Red Sox's rise from worst to first. Ross brought stability and a strong veteran presence behind the plate on days when Jarrod Saltalamacchia got a game off.
Gomes, on the other hand, brought a fighting spirit and nearly unmatched power to the roster. He launched 13 home runs in his first season in Boston.
Drew had a terrible postseason at the plate, recording just four hits before his home run in Game 6. That said, his defense was absolutely superb. There was no better defensive shortstop in the playoffs than Drew, who saved enough runs in the field to make up for those he didn't drive in at the plate.
Napoli and Victorino were the biggest contributors outside of Uehara. As members of the everyday lineup, they had direct impacts on the outcome of every game. Napoli hit clutch home run after clutch home run and Victorino's defense was right on par with Drew's.
Simply put, Cherington did a perfect job of assembling a group of players who would change the culture of the Red Sox. After losing 69 games and finishing last in the American League East in 2012, Cherington knew that he needed to bring in players who wanted to win at all cost.
From Day 1 of this season, there was a new feel in Boston. The unifying beards didn't become prominent until midseason, but the ideals of unity and teamwork were there from the start.
Cherington's offseason is a perfect representation of the fact that it doesn't always take the most talented team to win the World Series (even though Boston was exceptionally talented). With the right collection of gamers and hustlers, a team can go all the way.
This upcoming offseason will be a real test for the GM. He has free agents who could be offered multi-year contracts to play elsewhere, and it'll be up to Cherington to decide whether or not they are worth retaining.
For the sake of the culture and unity of his World Series-winning squad, I'll go out on a limb and say that Cherington brings back more than a few Red Sox free agents to defend their title in 2014.
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