Today, in virtually every Major League front office, they're asking themselves the same essential question: What can be learned from the Boston Red Sox winning the 2013 World Series?
Not to spoil the ending, but the Red Sox simply did the basics. They won with the timeless fundamentals of pitching, defense, teamwork and timely hitting. Yet that question is where the Hot Stove season begins.
The Red Sox did things differently than they had in past years, and perhaps that's why it's easy to think they reinvented the wheel. In fact, they did reinvent their own wheel. They stayed away from big-ticket free agents, declined to trade top prospects and made sure the players they acquired would be comfortable in the demanding environment of Red Sox Nation.
Almost every general manager would point out a couple of things. First, all of them understand the need to acquire players who contribute to a cohesive clubhouse environment.
Besides, winning can breed a good environment. The Dodgers collected a volatile mix of strong personalities, some of whom had had problems in other places. Once the club started playing well, their clubhouse atmosphere was tremendous. So there's that.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington went 7-for-7 on his free-agent scoreboard. Every single player he signed -- Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew and Koji Uehara -- contributed to winning. Not a single one of them was considered a star when they signed.
The Red Sox did many things well, but it begins with the pitching. If opposing general managers are looking for something to copy, it's that. Of course, they probably already knew that, too.
Baseball's top six starting rotations ranked by ERA all went to the postseason. Not a single rotation in the bottom half of the ranking got there. The Red Sox fought through an uneven season with their pitching. Their rotation's ERA was only 11th of 30 teams at 3.84, and only one team with a higher rotation ERA (Cleveland) made the playoffs.
But by the time the postseason began, the Red Sox had their pitching nicely lined up. Jon Lester and John Lackey were a solid one-two punch. Boston was 8-2 in postseason games started by Lackey or Lester. And until he got hurt, Clay Buchholz had been the ace of the staff.
Despite the injuries, the bullpen was terrific. Once Uehara became the full-time closer, he was so efficient with his pitches that he was good for four- and five-out saves in the playoffs.
So with Lester, Lackey, etc., locking down the front end of games and Uehara taking care of the back, the Red Sox won a World Series despite hitting .211.
Offensively, they relied on big moments. Napoli, Victorinio, David Ortiz and others all delivered big hits to win games. It's not the classic way of doing business, but it worked, and it contributed to the sense that Boston was something more than mere numbers could measure.
So as teams enter the offseason marketplace, did the Red Sox really teach us anything new? Or did they reinforce that everything begins with pitching?
It's about defense, too, about having a player like Drew playing an elite shortstop even without hitting, about Jacoby Ellsbury chasing down balls in centers.
It's about having players who are comfortable in the spotlight that is Boston, comfortable in the spotlight of all that media coverage. In the end, the Red Sox passed every test.
Their roster is dotted with free agents, so the 2014 Red Sox could be significantly different than the 2013 model. But the basics won't change, and over the last few weeks, they've reminded every other club of that.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.