MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series. Even though it happened more than five months ago, it still seems improbable. Based on how the Sox ended their 2011 season and how they floundered their entire 2012 season, the turnaround is nothing short of remarkable.

But these are the kind of turnarounds capable with a full arsenal of team building weapons at your disposal. In two shorts years, the Red Sox rose from punchline to class of the league. While the future is inevitably bright in Boston, the next six months might not be quite as sunny as the overall health of the organization.

Make no mistake, the organization is healthier than almost any in baseball. The Red Sox are rich and popular, successful and loaded for bear. More than anything, they’re smart. They have a very good idea of what they want to do and how they want to do it.

What they want to do, what made them so successful in the past and what will continue to make them successful in the future, is develop their own talent. When the Red Sox loaded up their roster with established veterans like Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster, it was with this endgame in mind. Dempster and Victorino were known commodities, players the Sox had a reasonable expectation of their production for the (short) life of the deals. Then the kids take over and financial fluidity remains.

These are the kinds of deals available to teams with homegrown cores as they aren’t chasing a franchise player to rescue an aging club. The Red Sox got incredible value out of high floor players, Victorino most notably. Even if the Sox right fielder declines from his ~5 WAR 2013, picturing a season worse than league-average is tough to imagine. Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava are also known commodities, players with specific strengths and weaknesses that the club trusts John Farrell to smartly use as the situation requires.

But there is still a significant risk for the Sox heading in 2014. Ryan Dempster effectively retired, stepping away from baseball for the time being. Stephen Drew is in contract limbo, regretting his decision to turn down the Sox’ qualifying offer. In their place are talented players with unquestioned prospect pedigree – but they remain players whose floor is not yet established.

The Red Sox are counting on a lot of production from Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Junior, and Xander Bogaerts. As stated above, three immensely talented players. The ceiling on their relative levels of production is sky high. But baseball is a difficult game and playing every day in the big leagues is a difficult job.

Luckily, the Red Sox won’t send this young threesome of players, one of which represents a future cornerstone of their franchise, into battle unarmed. The Sox commitment to player development extends beyond “sure hope this guy is good!” They built an incredible Spring Training facility, replicating Fenway Park on Florida’s coast but also outfitting the facility with every modern bell and whistle the original structure in Boston lacks.

The quiet offseason in Boston, where A.J. Pierzynski was the only signing of note, does not signify the Red Sox are punting on 2014 with all that playoff revenue pocketed. The plan for this season suggests belief in their young players, a belief Boston’s track record should buy from the likes of you and I. The Red Sox will surely give back some wins from their 97-win campaign a year ago but the overall health of the organization is remarkable.

If Bradley struggles, there is the Grady Sizemore lottery ticket. His health is the wildcard but the Red Sox employ one of the smartest training staffs in the game. If Sizemore was going to get right anywhere, it’s here. Middlebrooks might struggle and Bogaerts big body could betray him a shortstop. But young bats are the safest bet in the game and the offensive pedigree of these two players is not in doubt.

The pitching staff has a tough act to follow but another year of development for Brandon Workman and Allan Webster gives Boston more information to decide their ultimate roles. John Lackey was both effective and relatively healthy last year, demonstrating the why the Sox threw all that money at him in the first place.

The Red Sox probably won’t win the World Series again in 2014. They won’t win as many games – yet they still project to be one of the three best teams in baseball. The organization could not be better positioned for both the present and the future. It’s enough to make you sick, frankly. So, so sick.