Looking to clean the slate after their previous misadventures in free agency brought them to ruin, the Red Sox jettisoned much of their high-dollar superstar talent at the end of the 2012 season. They turned back to free agency to patch up the resulting holes prior to 2013, but this time, they focused on second-tier players willing to sign shorter, smaller deals. The result was 97 wins and a third World Series title in the last 10 years.
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|A.L. Central||N.L. Central|
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Though the overhaul helped get the Red Sox over the hump, with players like Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli reinstating themselves as legitimate assets, the holdovers had the greatest impact in Fantasy. Jacoby Ellsbury bounced back from an injury-plagued 2012 with an MLB-leading 52 steals. Jon Lester reunited with former pitching coach John Farrell, now his manager, to recapture top-of-the-rotation form. Koji Uehara got a chance to close full time (but only after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey went down to season-ending injuries) and became a force of Craig Kimbrel-like proportions, his 0.57 WHIP rating the best ever for a qualifying reliever. Even John Lackey, a non-factor since signing prior to the 2010 season, returned from Tommy John surgery with the kind of numbers that put him in the Cy Young discussion during his time with the Angels.
And the best part is the team remains mostly intact. Ellsbury's move to the Yankees creates a void at the top of the lineup, and Stephen Drew provided no worse than adequate production at shortstop, but most of the players who have given Fantasy owners reason to wonder in the past have an opportunity to continue with the same environment that brought out their best last year. Of course, it won't stop the passage of time, which is particularly noteworthy with heart and soul David Ortiz having turned 38 this offseason. For most of last year's Red Sox, that's the biggest impediment to a repeat performance.
They aim to get younger, though, having ready-made replacements for Ellsbury and Drew in Jackie Bradley and Xander Bogaerts. Though Bradley's upside is in question after his lackluster showing at Triple-A last year, with estimates ranging anywhere from Jon Jay to Shin-Soo Choo, Bogaerts is a superstar waiting to happen, an eventual first-rounder in Fantasy who seemingly can't grow up fast enough at age 21. The Red Sox will also get younger in the starting rotation if they pull the plug on Ryan Dempster, their lone misfire in free agency last year. Either of Felix Doubront and Brandon Workman would be of greater interest to Fantasy owners, with Workman potentially having some mixed-league appeal thanks to his eligibility at relief pitcher.
Impact prospect ... Xander Bogaerts, third base
Bust ... Jake Peavy, starting pitcherAt a time when starting pitching is back on the rise, you have to wonder if Peavy still even measures up. He certainly has the name value and showed as recently as 2012 that he's capable of being a Fantasy asset, but is the reward enough to justify the risk? That 2012 season was an outlier not only it terms of health -- it was his first with at least 180 innings, much less 200, since 2007 -- but also production. And it's not like it earned him a bunch of Cy Young votes. Even counting that season, the last time Peavy averaged a strikeout per inning was 2009. His 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings in four years since would have ranked 33rd among qualifying pitchers last year, and his 1.17 WHIP during that same stretch would have ranked 28th. So realistically, he has the upside of about a top-20 starting pitcher, but with less chance of reaching it than others you could draft in the same range, such as Kris Medlen, Zack Wheeler or even John Lackey.
Buyer beware ... A.J. Pierzynski, catcher
Prospects ReportEven apart from Bogaerts, Bradley and Workman, who should all win roles with the big-league club this spring, the Red Sox have several prospects on the verge of making an impact in the majors. Garin Cecchini, an on-base machine with some yet-to-develop power potential, could step in at third base if Will Middlebrooks' inconsistencies continue. Blake Swihart gives the Red Sox a long-term option at catcher, though like Cecchini, his power is more theoretical than practical at this stage of his development. Second baseman Mookie Betts had a Jackie Bradley-like breakthrough in the lower levels of the minors, flashing power and speed to go along with a tremendous batting eye, but he won't crack the Red Sox lineup unless he finds a new position. Of the three, Cecchini is the only one with any real hope for 2014. As far as starting pitchers go, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens could all step in this year if the Red Sox burn through the depth they already have in the majors. Owens is the most intriguing of the group, profiling as a future ace.