Yankees' AL East competition: Previewing the 2014 Boston Red Sox

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They're not exactly the 2013 Boston Red Sox, but they're still the Red Sox.

Between 2012 and 2013, the Boston Red Sox did two unbelievable things: they executed one of the most brilliant salary dumps in the history of professional sports, and they were also one of the most miraculous worst-to-first stories in baseball. After trading away Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, the Red Sox kept the stars somewhat on the books, but mostly cleared the way for a clean slate, a brand new roster, and now the door is open for a few top prospects to provide cost-controlled and long-term replacements. The 2012-13 Red Sox front office did a lot of things right: the salary dump, a change in manager, and player development and scouting. But also, they got incredibly lucky. Pickups like Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Mike Carp, and Koji Uehara were ones that all went right, something that most teams can't brag about. Much of that success is due to the immense amount of baseball acumen their front office possesses, but they were also big risks--and they worked out incredibly well.

As we all know, and as Yankee fans are wont to avoid, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. They did so because of, like I said, a lot of good moves and a lot of luck. And now they head into 2014 a ball club that is certainly not as good as the one that preceeded it, but definitely one that is better suited for the future. Their offseason resembles that of the Detroit Tigers; because of their position on the win curve, the Red Sox have the ability to sacrifice some wins in exchange for a lower future cost and for future performance. In particular, the focus is on catcher, shortstop, and center field. In those respective positions, the Red Sox lost Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury. That amounts to about seven wins. As replacements, they will turn to A.J. Pierzynski, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr./Grady Sizemore, which amounts to about five and a half wins. So yes, they've lost a win and a half, but how many other teams can say that they exchanged a win and a half for a combined total of 13 years of low-cost team control? And to boot, once Pierzynski's one-year deal is over, there is Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez waiting in the wings; they hope at least one of them is competent.

In the way of prospects--some of them I mentioned before--they're not too shabby. Eight Red Sox were ranked on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects; other than the ones I already mentioned, there is also second baseman Mookie Betts, left-handed pitcher Trey Ball, right-handed pitcher Allen Webster, left-handed pitcher Henry Owens, and third baseman Garin Cecchini. Prospect rankings are not sure bets and often don't pan out, but just based solely off of the ceilings of the Red Sox prospects, they seem to look like they'll be in a good position to compete for a very long time.

The pitching staff, although slightly different, is one of the deepest in baseball. They did lose Ryan Dempster to a year off, but it's still a rotation that features John Lackey, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, and some nice depth pieces in Brandon Workman, Chris Capuano, and Allen Webster. It's pretty obvious that no team uses just five starters, and the Red Sox are fully aware of that. I wouldn't be surprised if Capuano/Workman get a significant amount of innings in the event of an injury. And the bullpen, as some say with most teams, will "shake itself out". Last year the intended eighth inning/ninth inning combination was supposed to be Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan until both fell to injuries, and unexpectedly Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara stepped into those roles very nicely. Relievers are fickle and almost impossible to project, so it wouldn't even surprise me if the relieving situation looked different come September, or even July for that matter. But nonetheless, the Red Sox possess enough pitching depth to make it work.

The 2014 Boston Red Sox will lose a few key players at a few key positions, but their organizational depth allows them to recoup much of the losses they will endure. In the short run (this year), they'll deal with younger players on the upside of their career who are not yet at their potential; this will result in a couple wins lower than their 2013 total, most likely. They project to win about 88-90 wins, so they're definitely the front runners to win the American League East. It's difficult to say from a Yankee fan's perspective, but you have to take a moment to admire how this team is constructed for 2014 and beyond. The Red Sox will be competent opponents for many years to come, and hopefully the Yankees give them a run for their money.

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