For the Red Sox to defy expectations and contend this season, it's going to take a 2013- or 2021-style miracle.
Here's why that's not happening.
When we recall those magical seasons -- the first ending in the Boston Strong World Series title, the second in Game 6 of the ALCS -- it's with a focus on budget signings that made an impact.
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In 2013, general manager Ben Cherington used the savings from the massive trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to reinforce all levels of the roster. He added Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes, as well as reliever Koji Uehara. The result was a club that steamrolled through the regular season and then David Ortized its way to a title.
Eight years later, Chaim Bloom followed a similar script. In Kiké Hernández, Hunter Renfroe, Adam Ottavino, and trade deadline acquisition Kyle Schwarber, the Red Sox built an overachieving middle class that had Fenway rocking in October.
Neither team was built to last, as it turns out, but for one year each made indelible memories. Too bad we routinely get the narrative about them wrong in a way that shows just how unlikely it is that 2023 will offer a reprisal.
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Chaim Bloom and the front office are certainly aiming in that direction, eschewing big-money free agent additions to overhaul the bullpen and add a couple of mid-tier bats. All-Star closer Kenley Jansen highlights the remade relief corps, while offensive upgrades have been limited to Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida and aging third baseman Justin Turner.
On a typical Red Sox roster, those moves might put the team in business. But this group lacks a key component of the 2013 and 2021 teams: established stars.
The champions were laden with studs. Ortiz delivered the fourth .300-30-100 season of his career before rampaging through the playoffs. Dustin Pedroia played hurt practically from Opening Day and still won a Gold Glove while finishing seventh in the MVP race. Jacoby Ellsbury led the American League in steals during a free-agent push. Jon Lester reminded us why he wanted the ball in big games. All were members of the 2007 champions, and for all the juice that Victorino and Co. provided, that season goes nowhere without the holdovers.
The same goes for 2021. Yes, Renfroe and Hernández combined to top 50 homers, but the veterans of the 2018 World Series squad carried the team. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts won his fourth Silver Slugger Award. Third baseman Rafael Devers busted out with 38 homers and 113 RBIs. DH J.D. Martinez rebounded from an awful 2020 to lead the league in doubles. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi made his first All-Star team.
In both cases, we focused on the additions because they were new. But the foundation of success was laid by the veteran stars already in place -- players the 2023 Red Sox decidedly lack.
Outside of Devers, where is their top-end talent? Bogaerts is gone. Martinez is gone. Eovaldi might be gone, too. They still haven't replaced MVP Mookie Betts, especially since outfielder Alex Verdugo is barely a poor man's version of Andrew Benintendi.
That's a firehose of talent flowing out, and a trickle of talent coming back in, and here's the greatest indictment of the roster in a loaded American League East: if the Red Sox hit on every single one of this winter's free agents, they might finish last anyway.