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World Series champs ready to begin quest for encore

Sox determined to win MLB's first consecutive titles since 1998-2000 as spring dawns

The surreal journey the Red Sox took to win the World Series last season would seem hard to top. Then again, simply by defending their title, the 2014 campaign could be even more special.

Baseball hasn't had a repeat champion since the Yankees won it all three times in a row from 1998-2000. Before that, the Blue Jays went back to back in 1992-93. Nobody repeated in the 1980s.

The Red Sox know it will be difficult. But they will have a determination this season to prove it can be done. It all starts later this week, when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla.

"That's our goal," said ace Jon Lester. "Just because we won last year doesn't mean we're going to show up to Spring Training and go, 'Oh, we had a good year. Let's just go play this one out.' Every year, you walk through those doors and your goal is to win a World Series."

Though the path to every championship season is different, the overall character of the Red Sox should be of help in their quest to repeat.

"That was what was so impressive about that team last year -- we never wavered from our task," Lester said. "We'd find ourselves looking ahead and the next guy would bring us back to the task at hand that day. But like I said, you walk through those doors, that's going to be our goal. I don't know about chances, I don't know about percentages, but I like our chances against any team."

The main changes from last year's core are the subtractions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who signed with the Yankees and Marlins, respectively.

The key new faces are catcher A.J. Pierzynski, reliever Edward Mujica and erstwhile superstar Grady Sizemore, who is trying to get on a Major League field for the first time since 2011.

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 15

Full squad reports

Feb. 18

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Twins, Feb. 28, 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Away vs. Orioles, March 31, 3:05 p.m.

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Can Sizemore rebound?
All eyes will be on Sizemore, who will try to at last stay healthy. Sizemore was once an elite all-around center fielder. If he can be anything close to what he was in the past, Boston could have one of the best finds of the offseason.

2. Who will be the odd man out in the rotation?
Elementary math skills tell you that the Red Sox have six established starters for five spots in Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster. It remains to be seen how manager John Farrell will clear up this logjam.

3. Will Stephen Drew resurface?
Until Drew signs with someone, there will be rampant speculation that he could wind up back with Boston. This would have an impact on both Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks, who would suddenly be in competition to be the starting third baseman if Drew returns at shortstop.

2013 record
97-65, first place in the American League East, won the World Series

Projected batting order
1. LF Daniel Nava:
.303 BA, .385 OBP, .445 SLG, 12 HR, 66 RBI in 2013
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia:
.301 BA, .372 OBP, .415 SLG, 9 HR, 84 RBI in 2013
3. DH David Ortiz:
.309 BA, .395 OBP, .564 SLG, 30 HR, 103 RBI in 2013
4. 1B Mike Napoli:
.259 BA, .360 OBP, .482 SLG, 23 HR, 92 RBI in 2013
5. C A.J. Pierzynski:
.272 BA, .297 OBP, .425 SLG, 17 HR, 70 RBI in 2013
6. RF Shane Victorino:
.294 BA, .351 OBP, .451 SLG, 15 HR, 61 RBI in 2013
7. SS Xander Bogaerts:
.250 BA, .320 OBP, .364 SLG, 1 HR, 5 RBI in 2013
8. 3B Will Middlebrooks:
.227 BA, .271 OBP, .425 SLG, 17 HR, 49 RBI in 2013
9. CF Jackie Bradley Jr.:
.189 BA, .280 OBP, .337 SLG, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 2013

Projected rotation
1. Jon Lester, 15-8, 3.75 ERA in 2013
2. Clay Buchholz, 12-1, 1.74 ERA in 2013
3. John Lackey, 10-13, 3.52 ERA in 2013
4. Jake Peavy, 12-5, 4.17 ERA in 2013
5. Felix Doubront, 11-6, 4.32 ERA in 2013

Projected bullpen
Closer: Koji Uehara, 21/24 saves, 1.09 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Junichi Tazawa, 3.16 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Craig Breslow, 1.81 ERA in 2013

The new guys
C Pierzynski: Perhaps because of his outspoken nature, some consider Pierzynski to be a lightning rod. However, former teammates, including Ortiz, speak highly of him. The Red Sox look forward to adding Pierzynski's experience, durability and production behind the plate.

CF Sizemore: Sizemore can't wait to get into the grind of Spring Training to see if his body can handle the daily pounding. If so, Boston has a lot to be excited about. Sizemore will challenge Bradley to be the starting center fielder. If Bradley wins the job, Sizemore could be a nice piece off the bench.

RHP Mujica: The best-case scenario is that Mujica was simply tired at the end of last season, and that led to his struggling down the stretch with St. Louis. If so, he gives the Red Sox a potentially dominant setup man and also some insurance if Uehara suffers any health problems.

INF Jonathan Herrera: Acquired in a trade from the Rockies for Franklin Morales, Herrera gives Boston a utility player who can provide innings at second, short and third.

Prospects to watch
C Christian Vazquez: One of the reasons the Red Sox were willing to let Saltalamacchia go as a free agent and sign Pierzynski for one year is because they feel Vazquez is knocking on the door. He has a cannon arm and a lightning-quick release. The question is this: What type of hitter can Vazquez be?

red sox top prospects
Red Sox on's Top 100 Prospects list:
Rank Name Pos.
2 Xander Bogaerts SS
30 Henry Owens LHP
33 Jackie Bradley OF
46 Allen Webster RHP
57 Garin Cecchini 3B
61 Blake Swihart C
62 Mookie Betts 2B
86 Matt Barnes RHP
96 Trey Ball LHP

RHP Anthony Ranaudo: The hard-throwing righty could be ready for Major League action at some point during the summer. The Red Sox love his competitive fire and his arsenal of plus pitches.

LHP Henry Owens: It isn't a stretch to say Owens is Boston's best lefty pitching prospect since Lester. And in Spring Training, Owens will get a chance to learn from Lester on a daily basis.

On the rebound
3B Middlebrooks: For the most part, last season was a nightmare for Middlebrooks, who failed to live up to the promise of his rookie season. Middlebrooks is a hard worker and a determined player, so there's every reason to think he might rebound in 2014.

CF Sizemore: The Red Sox hope that Sizemore can be the position-player equivalent of what Lackey was last year.

RHP Buchholz: After a glittering and injury-shortened regular season, Buchholz experienced dead arm in the postseason. If he can recapture his form and stay healthy, Buchholz could be in the running for the AL Cy Young Award.

Long gone
CF Ellsbury: The speedy center fielder played a key role in Boston's last two World Series championships. When healthy, Ellsbury was an invaluable asset. But the Yanks were willing to make the financial commitment (seven years, $153 million) Ellsbury desired, so he followed Johnny Damon's footsteps and switched sides in the rivalry.

C Saltalamacchia: The popular switch-hitter got better throughout his time with the Red Sox. However, the club didn't want to make a multiyear investment in a catcher with depth waiting in the farm system. Saltalamacchia wound up with the Marlins.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Stephen Drew, Jonathan Herrera, Grady Sizemore, Jon Lester, A.J. Pierzynski, Will Middlebrooks, Edward Mujica, Clay Buchholz