The Boston Red Sox — a band of bearded buddies, a collection of hard-nosed players seeking redemption from last season and a roster with some key free agents — toppled the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1, to claim the World Series. Players and team officials celebrated on the field and in the clubhouse. Fans did the same at the stadium, in the streets and in bars. The joy for some will linger for months, if not years.
But soon enough, all baseball front offices will finally turn their full attention to next season. The Cardinals are the most likely to stay intact and remain a threat in the National League again in 2014. Of the five players that are impending free agents — Carlos Beltran, Jake Westbrook, Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal and Edward Mujica — only one seems to play into the Cardinals’ plans.
The Cardinals appear likely to decline often-injured Westbrook’s ’14 option, Carpenter is retiring and the Cardinals can do without Furcal, who is 35 and returning from Tommy John surgery, and Mujica, who burned out late in the season and may be too expensive. General Manager John Mozeliak has told reporters during the playoffs that the team hopes to have Beltran back, but another team, perhaps an American League team that can have Beltran serve as a designated hitter, may offer a more lucrative contract. The Cardinals have shown an uncanny knack of being able to fill holes from within the organization and, if they lose Beltran, one option would be to push Allen Craig to the outfield and play Matt Adams at first base.
The Red Sox, however, may have a harder time keeping the band together. Jon Lester has ’14 option that will surely be picked up. But beyond him, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Matt Thornton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Joel Hanrahan, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and John McDonald are soon-to-be free agents.
Napoli, Drew, Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia were major components of the Red Sox season and important factors in the playoffs. According to Fox Sports, the Red Sox are likely to extend a $14-million qualifying offer to Ellsbury, but he figures to be a high-prized outfielder on the free agent market and is represented by Scott Boras. Could the Red Sox find a way to keep Napoli around? Maybe they could use the money saved from Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia to pursue free agent catcher Brian McCann and they turn over the open outfield to a combination of Mike Carp, Daniel Nava and prospect Jackie Bradley Jr.? The Red Sox, too, may address their starting rotation by dealing Ryan Dempster or Jake Peavy.
The Red Sox still have a talented and experienced core, and their front office has proven deft at filling holes and the coaching staff at making the pieces fit. They will likely remain a contender next season, too, but perhaps with a slightly different look. So for now, enjoy this unique group of players and their proud achievement.
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Fenway fans get their chance to celebrate at home, writes Thomas Boswell.