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Red Sox primed for encore

10/29/2004 - Boston Red Sox

When you're part of a team that has just captured its first World Series title in 86 years, it's easy to get a little too caught up in the moment.

No doubt, that's what happened to Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera in the immediate aftermath of Boston's 3-0 victory -- and sweep -- over the Cardinals late Wednesday night.

Said Cabrera: "The Boston Red Sox are the greatest team in the history of baseball. Now, we're going to dominate the league.''

Not so fast, Orlando.

Surely, the Red Sox aren't about to take another 86 seasons before they win their next title. But neither are they likely to become a dynasty, either. That's just too difficult to do in this era, which makes the rival Yankees' accomplishment of four championships in the span of five seasons (1996-2000) that much more impressive.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The Red Sox are well-positioned to compete for -- if not win -- additional titles in the next few years to come.

It won't be easy for the Red Sox to win again. But it shouldn't take until 2090 for another. Here's why:

1. Revenue
As numerous teams have proven, spending a lot of money doesn't guarantee anything. But it sure helps.

The Red Sox were among the top three teams in revenue this past season and put their money where their roster was, spending approximately $130 million on payroll, second only to the Yankees.

Soon, the Sox will get to work on a plan to add 2,000-3,000 seats to Fenway Park, but it will take some time to earn back their investment on the construction.

In the meantime, the team sold out every seat to every game in 2004, and will probably do the same next season.

There have been whispers that Red Sox ownership doesn't want to pay the luxury tax again, meaning they might have to trim payroll some for next season. But the Sox will still be in the top handful of teams in spending.

That means once again a nucleus of All-Star players with a deep bench. It's the latter that most mid-market teams can't afford to stock, but one look at the Red Sox's success this postseason illustrates how essential it is to have depth.

2. Continuity
True, there could be as many as 16 free agents for the Sox. But as soon as the Red Sox pick up third baseman Bill Mueller's option -- an affordable $2.5 million -- they can return seven of nine regulars from this year's lineup.

Among key position players, only catcher Jason Varitek and Cabrera are eligible for free agency. Every effort will be made to retain Varitek, though there may be some strong differences of opinion on the length of that deal.

As for Cabrera, the Red Sox don't want to commit to anyone long-term at shortstop since top prospect Hanley Ramirez could conceivably be ready to play by early 2006. But Cabrera loved his three-month introduction to Boston and might be persuaded to take a one-year arbitration deal, or perhaps, a two-year deal. If not, the Sox could pursue a veteran shortstop like Omar Vizquel as a stopgap.

3. A strong pitching foundation
Even with postseason hero Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez eligible for free agency, the Red Sox return rotation mainstays Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield. Bronson Arroyo remains under their control, too.

In the bullpen, veteran setup men Alan Embree and Mike Timlin are signed through next season and closer Keith Foulke -- a postseason revelation -- is under contract for the next three seasons.

Lowe likely won't be coming back, though the Sox hope to retain Martinez. If they don't, they'll aggressively pursue another frontline starter (Carl Pavano, Brad Radke), ensuring that Schilling won't have to go it alone.

4. An improving development system
When Theo Epstein took over as the general manager after the 2002 season, the minor league cupboard was nearly bare. But it's slowly been re-stocked to the point where the Sox might finally get some internal (and inexpensive) help.

Kevin Youkilis could step in and play third if they decided to move Mueller. Catcher Kelly Shoppach should be ready to contribute at least some next season. Outfielder Brandon Moss has made nice strides.

Further down, the Sox boast some intriguing pitching prospects like righty Jon Papelbon and lefty Jon Lester.

5. Desire
When the Sox fell five outs short of a championship in 2003, ownership green-lighted the extension for Schilling and the signing of Foulke, the final two pieces of the puzzle.

Ownership isn't interested in a one-and-done arrangement. Principal owner John Henry is intensely competitive and knows that, once the novelty of this year's title wears off, expectations will be greater than ever.

Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO Larry Lucchino have too much invested -- in every sense of the word -- to be satisfied with just one championship and playing in the same division as the highly motivated (and deeper-pocketed) Yankees will mean a continued willingness to spend and win.

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.