And what a young core it is. Consider that the Red Sox have an ace in Josh Beckett who will be 27 when he takes the ball on Opening Day. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who should take a leap forward after going through a rookie year of cultural and baseball adjustments, is also 27. Jonathan Papelbon, who might be the best closer in baseball, is -- you guessed it -- 27.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is coming off a Rookie of the Year season, might get even better. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is already a fan favorite 33 games into his career.
There's also Clay Buchholz, who electrified Fenway Park with his no-hitter on Sept. 1 against the Orioles and will vie to win a rotation spot in Spring Training. Left-handed starter Jon Lester, who will turn 24 on Jan. 4, can now focus on just baseball after spending last year gaining his strength back following a bout with cancer.
Of course, the youngsters need veterans to go with them, and the Red Sox have a lot of those. Mike Lowell will once again patrol the hot corner after signing a new three-year deal. Big boppers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will be back to terrorize opposing pitchers for yet another season. Captain Jason Varitek will once again lead the pitching staff.
As they enter 2008, the Red Sox have a lot of things going for them.
Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2007 becomes 2008, this is who is projected to take the field for the Red Sox:
| 2B||Dustin Pedroia|
| 1B||Kevin Youkilis|
| DH||David Ortiz|
| LF||Manny Ramirez|
| 3B||Mike Lowell|
| RF||J.D. Drew|
| C||Jason Varitek|
| CF||Jacoby Ellsbury|
| SS||Julio Lugo|
| SP||Josh Beckett|
| SP||Daisuke Matsuzaka|
| SP||Curt Schilling|
| SP||Tim Wakefield|
| SP||Jon Lester|
| SP||Clay Buchholz|
| CL||Jonathan Papelbon|
Offseason report card: The Red Sox didn't need to do a whole lot, and thus far, they haven't. Their key task was retaining free agents Curt Schilling and Lowell, and the Sox swiftly did that. Seasoned veterans Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin are also back for another year. On a scale of one to 10, give them a 9 -- expected to contend.
Re-arrivals: Lowell (signed to three-year deal), Schilling (signed for one year), Wakefield (club picked up 2008 option), Julian Tavarez (club picked up 2008 option), Timlin (signed for one year).
Departures: RHP Eric Gagne (signed with Brewers as free agent).
In limbo: C Doug Mirabelli (free agent), OF Bobby Kielty (free agent), 1B-3B-OF Eric Hinske (free agent).
The Road Ahead: Epstein continues to scour the market in hopes of improving Boston's bullpen depth. The Red Sox would love another power arm to put in the setup role and complement lefty Hideki Okajima.