Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, left, holds the World Series trophy Wednesday night at a firework smoke-filled Fenway Park. Credit: Getty Images
When people think of the transformation of the Red Sox from their disastrous, 69-win 2012 season to their worst-to-first World Series 2013 season, the trade with the Dodgers in August of 2012 is immediately the main focus point. While yes, the trade freed up a considerable amount of money, the team still needed to use that money wisely to obtain the players to rebuild the team and change the culture.
Over the course of last off-season general manager Ben Cherington made all the right moves, first with hiring former pitching coach John Farrell to replace Bobby Valentine, but also the signings of seven free agents, all of whom played some role in the championship run and in the culture change within the clubhouse.
"You can't give Ben Cherington enough credit," Farrell said. "He had a clear-cut vision going back to last August. It started with the trade with the Dodgers. It freed up a lot of capability to go out and hand-pick guys that we felt and he felt could embrace everything that is Boston. He hit it head-on and he hit spot-on with every guy he brought in here.”
Last winter the Red Sox signed free agents Shane Victorino, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Ryan Dempster and Stephen Drew, who all were known for being outstanding clubhouse guys, but what was uncertain was their play on the field.
“I think at the beginning of the year everyone thought we just brought good guys here,” Dustin Pedroia said. “The reality is those guys can flat out play baseball and that’s the reason why we’re here. We just didn’t get nice guys that are fun to be around – we got guys who stepped up huge.”
All seven of the signings contributed significantly during the year and into the postseason, but leading the way were Victorino and Uehara. Battling injuries all season long, Victorino was arguably the best defensive right fielder in the game, winning his fourth Gold Glove. Offensively, he hit .294 with an on-base percentage of .351 in the regular season, being a staple in the Red Sox lineup in the No. 2 hole.
After going 6-for-14 in the ALDS win over the Rays, he began to struggle in the postseason. In the ALCS and World Series he went a combined 5-for-37 (.135) and even sat out Games 4 and 5 of the World Series with a sore back, but he had two of the biggest hits in getting the Red Sox their eighth World Series title. In Game 6 of the ALCS with the Sox trailing 2-1 his grand slam propelled them to a 5-2 win and clinching the series over the Tigers.
His magic in Game 6’s continued Wednesday night as his 3-RBI double in the third inning provided the Red Sox with all the offense they needed in their 6-1 series clinching victory over the Cardinals. To boot, he later added an RBI single. Despite his injuries and scuffles in the postseason, he did what he did all year long, just grind every game and make things happen.
The most underrated signing of them all was Uehara, who was signed as just another reliever, but after Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan went down with season-ending injuries he was put into the closer’s role and the Red Sox couldn’t have had it work out any better.
The 38-year-old strike throwing machine, went 4-1 with a miniscule 1.09 ERA and 21 saves in 23 chances in the regular season and continued his success into the postseason going 1-1 and earning five saves with a 1.52 ERA over 13 2/3 innings. After allowing a walk-off homer to Jose Lobaton of the Rays in Game 3 of the ALDS he allowed just five hits the rest of the postseason and was by far the most dependable reliever coming out of the Red Sox bullpen, as was the case all season long.
In what was a historic turnaround, not only do the players deserve a lot of the credit, but so does Cherington as he turned what was supposed to be a rebuilding season into a World Championship.
“Well Ben said he wanted to build the next great Red Sox team, he just built it a little faster than he thought,” said Larry Lucchino, President and CEO of the Red Sox. “This was a great Red Sox team.”
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter@Hannable84