If you have been following the Boston Red Sox this offseason, there's a strong possibility you fell asleep in early December and just recently woke up because spring training started.
The point being that these are not your older brother's Red Sox. General manager Ben Cherington is playing a new game, which is built on a foundation of strong veteran players and high-ceiling, MLB-ready prospects with a dash of high-character free agents mixed in.
So, with the exception of finding a one-year stop gap at catcher (A.J. Pierzynski), re-signing Mike Napoli and making a few small tweaks to the bullpen (Edward Mujica, Rich Hill), it's been a quiet winter for the Red Sox.
That's probably a good thing for a franchise that has been burned by massive long-term free-agent commitments in the past (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, pre-2013 John Lackey).
Being able to shun the market in favor of building around young talent is a vital aspect of being able to contend year in and year out. Look at everything the New York Yankees had to do this offseason, spending nearly $500 million on free agents, to keep up with the Red Sox and Rays in their own division.
It's a formula that all 30 Major League Baseball teams want to follow, but only a select few are able to execute it. The Red Sox are all the rage in the sport entering 2014, following a run to the World Series last year and boasting one of the best farm systems in the sport.
Bleacher Report Lead Prospect Writer Mike Rosenbaum recently ranked Boston's farm system fifth heading into spring training, citing the team's ability to get production from top players like Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Workman while building up more talent at the lower levels.
All of their top position prospects possess a unique feel for hitting and an advanced approach (Garin Cecchini, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart), and they should continue to move up the ladder quickly as a result. The organization also has a cast of power arms waiting patiently in the high-minors for crack at the major leagues.
Of course, when you win a championship and bring back virtually your entire starting roster from the postseason, excluding a few bit parts that can be replaced, it's much easier to watch the world around you change.
Just look at the players Boston has lost this offseason and the replacements waiting to take over in 2014.
|2013 Starter||Projected 2014 Starter|
|Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Signed w/ Marlins)||A.J. Pierzynski|
|Shortstop: Stephen Drew (Free Agent)||Xander Bogaerts|
|Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury (Signed w/ Yankees)||Jackie Bradley|
Those aren't exactly three small pieces to replace. Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia combined for 400 hits (152 extra-base hits) and 12.8 FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement.
Bogaerts looked fantastic in the postseason last year, putting up excellent at-bats against dominant pitching staffs in Detroit and St. Louis, but he's just 21 years old and is getting ready to play the most important position on the diamond.
Jackie Bradley struggled in 37 MLB games last year, hitting just .189/.280/.337, though he was promoted too soon because of a strong spring training, which goes to show the volatility of spring numbers and small sample sizes.
Following 80 games in Triple-A last year, Bradley is better prepared to handle a starting job in the big leagues now. He's got a profile eerily similar to Ellsbury, minus the elite speed.
Bradley's a premium defender who gets some of the best reads you will see, works counts and has a very good swing to hit line drives all over the field with fringy home run power.
A.J. Pierzynski is the only questionable move the Red Sox made this offseason. He's 37 years old and is coming off a season with a pathetic .272/.297/.425 slash line.
For a team that prides itself on having hitters who can work counts and post high OBP totals, Pierzynski, who drew 11 unintentional walks in 529 plate appearances last year, doesn't seem like a good fit.
But the Red Sox only gave Pierzynski one year, with defensive wizard Christian Vazquez and future starter Blake Swihart waiting in the wings, so it's a risk they can afford to take.
Oh yeah, Bogaerts (No. 2 ) and Bradley (No. 33) are both ranked in MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, as are Henry Owens (No. 30), Allen Webster (No 46), Garin Cecchini (No. 57), Blake Swihart (No. 61), Mookie Betts (No. 62) and Trey Ball (No. 96).
The eight players in the top 100 are the most of any team in baseball this season, so there is another wave coming for the defending World Series champions.
Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe—who makes a living trolling fans about the death of Boston sports teams, even when the NFL team is playing in the AFC Championship Game—loves the way the Red Sox are running things this offseason:
Have you listened to the band? I have, and it sounds like the Sox are not only the best team in baseball, they are also the smartest. Unlike those silly, stupid Yankees and Dodgers, they are not going to throw money at their problems and spend themselves into oblivion. The Sox don’t have to do this; they have a deep farm system, ripe with players who are only a year or two away from being big league stars.
Some may not be sold that the quiet approach is a good strategy for the Red Sox to take. After all, they did win the World Series last year after spending on quality free agents like Napoli, Drew, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and Jonny Gomes.
Who is the best team in the AL East heading into 2014?
The AL East has gotten much better this winter. In addition to all the moves made by the Yankees, Baltimore has upgraded its pitching staff with the late signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Korean right-hander Suk-Min Yoon (via Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com).
Tampa Bay returns a loaded roster that figures to get better in 2014 with a full season from last year's AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers and a bounce-back campaign from ace David Price. The Blue Jays still have a dynamic offense, especially if Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes play in 140-150 games.
Despite the tough competition around them, the Red Sox are still the team to beat. They have more quality depth than anyone in the division, with one superstar prospect ready to play every day (Bogaerts), a center fielder who will blossom into a future leadoff hitter (Bradley), a number of pitchers who could see MLB time (Barnes, Owens, Webster) and more high-ceiling talent at the lower levels.
The Red Sox have proven over the last 16 months that spending big isn't as important as spending wisely, which is why the team's quiet approach this winter makes sense. They've put their best resources toward building young depth throughout the minor leagues.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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