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Around the Horn: Starting rotation

Led by Lester, Red Sox have six quality starters vying for five spots

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Around the Horn: Starting rotation play video for Around the Horn: Starting rotation

With the start of Spring Training just a week away, anticipation is building for the 2014 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, continuing with the starting rotation.

Looking for a common thread between all three Red Sox teams that have won the World Series over the last 10 seasons? Just examine the starting rotations from 2004, '07 and '13.

Those five-man groups were all highly effective and, for the most part, durable. At least on paper, the 2014 corps could have all three of those squads topped in one department -- organizational depth.

Manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves will have the luxury of opening camp with six established starting pitchers for five spots. That is a "problem" that 29 other managers would love to have.

Leading the pitching-packed Red Sox? The big three of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey. There are two more spots available between veterans Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster and the still-evolving lefty, Felix Doubront.

The one thing Lester has always provided the Red Sox with is innings. And aside from the final month of 2011 and his mysteriously subpar '12 season, he has typically been among the league's best starting pitchers.

Lester took it to an even higher level last October, having one of the best postseasons by a Boston starter in history.

Even Hall of Famer Tom Glavine was impressed.

"Being a Red Sox fan still, I love watching him pitch," Glavine said recently. "I loved watching him in the postseason last year. That's the style of pitching that I like. He obviously throws hard, but it's not all about throwing the ball by people. He's thinking about what he's doing, he's mixing his pitches up well, and I love his competitiveness. He takes the ball and looks like he just has the attitude when he goes out there that, 'I'm going to beat you.' I like seeing that kind of attitude."

Entering the option year of his contract, Lester will probably talk to the Red Sox about an extension during Spring Training. He doesn't sound like he wants to seek a change-of-address form anytime soon.

"These guys are my No. 1 priority," Lester said. "I want to be here until they have to rip this jersey off my back. Hopefully we get something done in Spring Training."

If not, Boston can still expect another tremendous season from Lester in 2014.

As solid as Lester was last season, Buchholz was the team's most dominant pitcher when he was healthy. The problem is that Buchholz once again was saddled with an injury.

This time, it was a shoulder ailment that first manifested in June and then resurfaced in October, when he had dead arm. But by all accounts, Buchholz had a normal offseason, and this could finally be the year he puts it all together.

"He's gotten back to full health and strength," Farrell said. "He was in here [in mid-January] just to get some baseline testing and see where he was with full range of motion. There are no issues there. He's in the long-toss throwing portion of the program. It's likely he gets throwing on the mound once he reports to Florida right after the first of February. So we fully expect him to be opening-series ready when we start the season."

As impressive as Lester and Buchholz were last season, the biggest surprise on the team was Lackey, who made a strong return from Tommy John surgery.

Forget about the righty's 10-13 record. That was clearly a byproduct of an almost invisible lack of run support. Lackey kept the Red Sox in just about every game he pitched and came up large in the postseason, particularly when he outdueled Detroit's Justin Verlander, 1-0, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

Another year removed from the surgery, Lackey could be even stronger this season.

There aren't many teams that have a former Cy Young Award winner slotted into the No. 4 spot in the rotation. But that's exactly what the Red Sox have in Peavy.

The righty gave the team exactly the type of competitive fire it expected after the trade in late July. Peavy loves the environment in Boston and even bought himself a duck boat after the team's World Series parade.

And this will be a contract year for Peavy, giving him every incentive to have a big year.

Entering his third season as a member of Boston's rotation, it is still hard to know quite what to expect of Doubront. At times, he can be a horse. At other times, Doubront has been unreliable.

The plan was for the Red Sox to put Doubront on a more structured program in the offseason, designed to help him hold up better over the course of the long season. If he was committed enough to that, perhaps he will take his game to the next level.

It remains to be seen if Dempster still has a spot in Boston's rotation. If everyone stays healthy and effective, he could be the odd man out.

The well-liked righty pretty much performed as advertised after signing as a free agent. Dempster was always available to take his turn and was one of the players credited most for keeping the clubhouse loose. He is owed $13.25 million, so if there isn't a spot available in the rotation, the Red Sox will likely try to move him before the season starts.

Aside from Buchholz, Boston was fortunate to stay as healthy as it did from a pitching standpoint a year ago. If there are injury problems this season, some of the highly touted young guns could get a chance to prove themselves.

Brandon Workman earned his stripes last year, first in the rotation and then in the bullpen. The righty will help in some capacity this season and is all but certain to make the team.

The next wave of young guns is led by two righties -- Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes -- and lefty Henry Owens. And don't forget about Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, two hard-throwing righties acquired in the blockbuster with the Dodgers in 2012.

With such a collection of arms, the Red Sox will and should be taken seriously in their quest to become baseball's first repeat champions since the Yankees of 1998-2000.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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