November 5, 2013

Tom Caron: For Red Sox, next year is next year, so savor the present

The Boston Red Sox won’t be the same team in 2014, as GM Ben Cherington looks to repeat a magical year.

Somehow, November snuck up on us. October became a blur of late-night baseball and champagne-soaked clubhouses. The duck boats have been parked (except for the one Jake Peavy bought, which is heading south) and the confetti has been swept away.

On Monday, some of the Red Sox dropped by the Gillette headquarters in Boston to get a shave. Another sure sign that the crazy ride of the 2013 Red Sox is officially over.

Qualifying offers were handed out Monday, the first order of business in the creation of the 2014 team.

Last winter, General Manager Ben Cherington talked about “the next great Red Sox team.” We thought he was talking about a team that would take years to create, yet that next great team was already coming together.

Three World Series titles in 10 years. Not bad for a city that waited 86 years between championships No. 5 and No. 6.

Cherington doesn’t have a lot of time to put his offseason plans together. The MLB’s winter meetings are just five weeks away.

We’ll have plenty of time to look at who will be back, who won’t be back, and which newcomers will join the team in its bid to become the first back-to-back MLB champs since the Yankees did it in 1999 and 2000.

The Sox team that reports to Fort Myers, Fla., in about three months won’t be the same group of players that captured our hearts over the past six months.

That’s always the cold reality of a run to the title. We saw it in the winter of 2004-2005 when the beloved band of self-proclaimed “idiots” said goodbye to Boston. Soon Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Johnny Damon were all wearing new uniforms.

History shows us that Cherington is the one New Englander who can’t fall in love with the team that stunned the baseball world with a 97-win regular season and a march to destiny.

When Theo Epstein chose not to lock up his stars from ’04 he set the franchise on a course that would lead to another title just three seasons later.

That doesn’t mean we can’t spend a little more time remembering the players who provided such great entertainment for four weeks in October.

We saw newcomers like Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew and Koji Uehara roll into town and act like the “pressure” of Boston was nothing more than an urban myth. By the first weekend of October, Napoli was strolling through the streets of Boston – shirtless with a cigar in his mouth. He’ll be rewarded handsomely with an offseason contract, but will never again have to pay for a drink in this town.

If Gomes doesn’t get an endorsement deal from Oakley goggles, he should find a new agent. The image of him in a battle helmet with goggles and patriotic shorts will always be synonymous with the swagger this team showed.

And don’t forget about the players who savored this championship after living through the collapse of 2011 and the misery of 2012. It was Jon Lester who carried the trophy onto the field before the Patriots game Sunday. It wasn’t long ago we wondered if the Sox would pick up its 2014 club option on him. Now we wonder how many more years they can lock him in.

John Lackey was the poster child for chicken and beer in September of 2011. Twenty-five months later he was the winning pitcher in the final game of the World Series, tipping his cap to an adoring crowd as he left.

We could go on recalling stories of this team, but there isn’t time to do it. The clock marches forward, and with it comes planning for the future.

For a few more days we’ll leave that to Cherington and his staff. For fans, the “next great Red Sox team” is already here.

Tom Caron is studio host for the Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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