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No. 4 Red Sox: Is a repeat possible?

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
MLB: World Series-St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox
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Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia played all last season with a thumb injury that required offseason surgery. (USA TODAY Sports)

Editor’s note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Boston Red Sox.

2013 record: 97-65
Finish: First, AL East
2013 payroll: $176.5 million (3rd of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $176.8 million (3rd of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason ranking: 4
Red Sox in six words: Hey, it’s their effin’ league, too.

OFFSEASON ACTION
Well, the Red Sox did a lot of stuff this winter. A couple of them met Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Some made plans to shave their beards. David Ortiz bought his dog a sweater. Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino had surgeries. Will Middlebrooks had a date or two. And they all watched the New York Yankees spend about a half-billion dollars to catch up, a good portion of that on old friend Jacoby Ellsbury. Jonny Gomes called it “kind of flattering.”

All in all, the Red Sox wore their new composure, their new character, their new championship well.

As of today, they don’t look quite as unbeatable as they did three months ago, but a year ago today they didn’t look like a team capable of much of anything, and that turned out pretty well.

No, so far, the Red Sox appear content with Middlebrooks at third, Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field, though the battle between Grady Sizemore and Bradley (and Sizemore and his own body) should make for interesting days in Fort Myers, Fla.

[Related: No. 5 A's: Retooled and ready to do their thing ]

The Red Sox did sign A.J. Pierzynski, who replaces Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the first-string catcher. And they added Edward Mujica as a setup man for Koji Uehara. Combined, the two faced 520 batters last season and walked 14 of them.

There’s still a chance they sign Stephen Drew, but GM Ben Cherington appears satisfied he can repeat in the AL East with this roster.

REALITY CHECK
From a season in which everything went wrong, to a sizeable rebuild-on-the-fly, to a season in which everything went right, the Red Sox appear to have created something sustainable.

And if not, there are options.

Any one – or more – of Middlebrooks, 

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Big things are expected from young shortstop Xander Bogaerts. (Getty Images)

Bogaerts and Bradley could prove to be in over his head, and that’s the risk here. But there is great depth in the farm system, especially on the pitching end, and the worst scenario is Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster would have to be traded to upgrade the lineup. Given the young men coming to camp, and their promise – from Henry Owens to Anthony Ranaudo, from Brandon Workman to Matt Barnes, and don’t forget Felix Doubront – it’s possible the Red Sox will have more good options in their rotation than jobs available anyway.

What worked here a year ago should work again, assuming good health and reasonable luck, assuming Jon Lester continues his revival and John Lackey continues his diet and Clay Buchholz is over the shoulder bursitis, etc., that cost him half a season. By the time Buchholz got to October, he was spent. All that starting depth bodes well for the bullpen, as well, if management needs to go in that direction. The Red Sox are well-situated on the pitching front.

Offensively, they get Pedroia back from thumb surgery, not that the injury slowed him down much. And they’ll cope with the loss of Ellsbury, who not only played an expert center field, but led all qualified AL leadoff hitters in batting, on-base percentage and stolen bases. The leadoff spot – in front of Pedroia, Ortiz and Mike Napoli, et al. – likely falls to Victorino. Daniel Nava and Bogaerts are possibilities.

Cherington rummaged around in free agency last winter, came away with the likes of Victorino, Napoli and Gomes, and the Red Sox became the best offensive team in the game. They were smart, they got on base, they hit big home runs, and they were relentless. They’ll miss Ellsbury, to be sure. Ortiz can’t keep getting better as he approaches 40, can he? Are the young men on the left side, the one in center field, ready for the big leagues?

There are some questions for the Red Sox. Not nearly as many as last year, however. And it’s only been a few months since they answered every one of those.

SAVIOR
Dustin Pedroia. For all he does, and the example he sets, and all he requires out of teammates, Pedroia makes so much of what works in Boston work well.

The offseason surgery on his thumb? He had it after injuring the thumb … on opening day. After that, he played 159 regular-season games. He played 16 postseason games. He hit .301. He was an All-Star. He was seventh in the MVP vote. He won another Gold Glove.

So, hey, Boston might be Ortiz’s city. For three hours a night, it’s Pedroia’s too.

HAIKU
Those four winter words,
They warm the heart: “Big Papi
Demands extension.”

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