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Red Sox stick to bang-for-bucks plan

Boston Red Sox players run onto the field

Boston Red Sox players run onto the field after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series. (Oct. 30, 2013) Credit: AP

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Red Sox won the World Series last season by having the right players in the right places. Now they are trying to repeat with the right players at the right prices.

The Red Sox aren't overpaying for free agents or inclined to make lengthy commitments these days. They're relying on homegrown talent and supplementing with mid- and low-level free agents.

In doing so, they've also been highly cognizant of repairing their clubhouse culture. The quest has been for players with high character and low salary demands.

Boston has been fine with letting other teams commit $240 million to Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano. They did quite well last year, acquiring Shane Victorino for three years, $39 million and Jonny Gomes for two years, $10 million.

The Sox didn't panic when leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees for seven years, $153 million this offseason. And they didn't flinch when possible replacements such as Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson commanded $15 million per year.

Instead, they took a flier on centerfielder Grady Sizemore for $700,000, hoping Sizemore -- who hasn't played in two years -- can bounce back from knee surgery and at least buy time for rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. to turn potential into production.

When catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed a three-year deal with the Marlins, Boston didn't go chasing free-agent Brian McCann, who got $85 million for five years. They brought in veteran A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year deal for $8.25 million to platoon with David Ross.

And they've steadfastly refused to pony up to bring back free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, who provided solid defense last season. They project phenom Xander Bogaerts to take over at short and Will Middlebrooks to be their third baseman. Bogaerts and Middlebrooks each will make less than $500,000 this year, helping the Red Sox reduce an Opening Day payroll that was more than $175 million in 2012 to $141 million, as projected by ESPN.

"Spending money doesn't guarantee that you're going to win," said David Ortiz, who waited until last week for the Red Sox to commit to a $16-million contract for this season with options that could keep him in Boston through 2017. "But it helps. I mean, who doesn't want to have the Dodgers' pitching staff or all those players they have?"

Pitcher Jon Lester, in the final year of his deal, is still waiting for his next contract.

"The Red Sox are going to do what makes sense for the Red Sox," Lester said, discussing why the team didn't pursue Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, for whom the Yankees committed $155 million. "That's one of those Catch-22s. Maybe they didn't go after anyone because they believe in the five or six guys we have."

Boston's big pitching additions are Chris Capuano ($2.25 million) and Edward Mujica ($9.5 million, two years). Capuano won 12 games for the Dodgers in 2012 but hasn't had a winning season since 2005. Mujica saved 37 games for the NL champion Cardinals before running out of gas. Boston hopes he will support last year's bullpen savior, Koji Uehara, who is back for a second year at $4.25 million.

Lester understands the team's willingness to bank on Bradley, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, as well as outfielder Daniel Nava and pitcher Brandon Workman, who played vital roles last season.

"People will say you're putting too much stock in guys that are unproven," Lester said. "Others will say you've got to give those [young] guys a chance. I think it's a win-win. We've got some younger guys in here now that are part of this [winning culture]. We were all there [unproven] at one time."

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, named MLB Executive of the Year after last season's worst-to-first turnaround, says the team is building with depth and with players focused on doing things the right way under manager John Farrell.

Farrell seems content with the hand he's been dealt.

"One thing that's clear about this group is that they are very genuine," he said. "They've come back, the same people with the same drive, same motivation, the same work ethic. Maybe the motivation [this year] is the chance to do something extremely special."

That would be to become the first World Series champions to repeat since the 1998-2000 Yankees. If the Red Sox do that, then the dollar signs -- or lack of them -- won't really matter.

New York Sports