FORT MYERS, Fla. — Had the Red Sox simply been tolerable last season, it would have been a vast improvement. That’s how distasteful the 2012 season was.
The Red Sox arrived at spring training with a new manager, new coaches, and a roster of new players after finishing in last place in the American League East with 69 victories. Expectations were something other teams had to deal with.
Now, with their World Series rings on order and a visit to the White House on the agenda, the Red Sox return to JetBlue Park missing the easy-to-assemble motivational tools available a year ago.
“We just can’t grow beards again and expect to do the same thing by proving all the doubters wrong,” outfielder Jonny Gomes said. “There has to be something new. But we’ll find it.”
That process starts this week when pitchers and catchers officially report. Then comes seven weeks of figuring out what will drive this particular team. For manager John Farrell, it should be more of what worked so well last year.
“This team was good at focusing on the game that night. We established that as our identity,” he said. “Winning the World Series doesn’t change that. We have to have the same process, the same message.”
General manager Ben Cherington reversed the course of the franchise last year by signing a group of veteran players to short-term contracts. An unexpected championship didn’t change his team-building plans. The Red Sox eschewed high-profile additions after the season, electing to fill holes with stopgap veterans such as catcher A.J. Pierzynski while preserving opportunities for their prospects.
“We had some spots that we needed to fill and we wanted to pursue players in the same context that we did last offseason, guys that we felt fit in with what we wanted to do from a skills standpoint on the field, off the field [and] fit into the long-term plan, too,” Cherington said.
“And hopefully we’ve been able to do that. That’s the intent. We understand that we don’t get everything right, but that’s the intent. We’re focused on building the best team that we can each year and we feel good about the team we have going into this year.”
The Red Sox open camp with some significant questions. The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency — and the Yankees — left the team without a center fielder and leadoff hitter.
Shane Victorino could move to the top spot in the lineup. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore will compete to start in center field.
Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves have six or seven starters to fit into five slots. The Sox return Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster from last season. The organization also views young righthander Brandon Workman as being worthy of a starting spot.
Dempster, Doubront, and Workman were in the bullpen for the postseason when the Sox trimmed the rotation. Now more decisions are necessary.
The Sox could maintain their surplus to guard against injury or underperformance. One method would be to use six starters early in the season. That would give Lackey and Lester extra rest after their postseason work in October. Lester threw 34⅔ innings in the playoffs and Lackey 26.
The Sox also could revisit the trade market in March when other teams look to fill holes in their rotations.
In Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, and Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox could be integrating three younger players into prominent roles. For that trio, spring training is important.
The Red Sox went to the American League Championship Series in 2008 after winning the 2007 World Series. The 2005 team lost in the Division Series after the 2004 team wrote a story that will never be equaled.
“Not World Series teams, but good teams nonetheless,” said Cherington, who has been with the Sox since 1999. “So I think you have to look at what you have and work within the framework of what we have now. What we know is that we felt we had a really strong core returning.”
The Red Sox were the first team since the 1991 Minnesota Twins to go from last place in their division to a World Series title in the span of a year. Now a different sort of history can be made. The 2000 Yankees were the last team to repeat as Series champions.
“It’s going to happen eventually,” Gomes said. “Why not us? I think we’re still hungry. It took me a long time to get to the World Series and it was fun. It would be more fun to do it again.”
Red Sox spring training at a glance
The Globe’s Peter Abraham takes a look at what to expect in Fort Myers:
Feb. 15: Pitchers and catchers report
Feb. 17: First workout for pitchers and catchers
Feb. 18: Position players report
Feb. 20: First full-squad workout
Feb. 27: Doubleheader against Northeastern and BC
Feb. 28: Grapefruit League opener vs. Twins
March 29: Camp breaks
March 31: Opening Day at Baltimore
Jonathan Herrera: Utility infielder was obtained from the Rockies for Franklin Morales.
A.J. Pierzynski: Veteran catcher accepted a one-year deal. He represents the biggest acquisition of the winter.
Grady Sizemore: Idle for two years because of myriad injuries, the former All-Star is attempting a comeback.
Edward Mujica: Former Cardinals closer is late-inning insurance.
GOING, GOING, GONE
Jacoby Ellsbury: So much for loyalty, he’s now with the Yankees.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The Sox took a pass when he became a free agent, so Salty returned to Florida and became a Marlin.
MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY
Stephen Drew: He’s still a free agent, meaning the Red Sox could bring him back.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Henry Owens: The 21-year-old lefthander won’t make the team but he could set himself up for midseason promotion.
Blake Swihart: Another 21-year-old, the athletic catcher could be the starter in 2015.
Garin Cecchini: Infielder has an advanced approach at the plate.
Deven Marrero: Shortstop made a good impression in big-league camp last year.
Center field: The Red Sox signed Sizemore to compete with Jackie Bradley Jr. If Bradley doesn’t win the job, he could go back to Triple A.
Rotation: There are six starters for five spots. Somebody has to go to the bullpen . . . or to another team.
Bullpen: There’s a spot or two up for grabs and plenty of contenders, as usual.
SPRING STORY LINES
Repeat after me: No major league team has repeated as champion since the 2000 Yankees. You can expect to hear that a lot.
Peeved Papi: David Ortiz has been lobbying for a contract extension. Will that become a running theme?
More of Les: Jon Lester has said he will take a hometown discount to sign an extension with the Sox. Your move, Ben Cherington.
X marks the spot: Xander Bogaerts will likely start at shortstop or third base. The 21-year-old could be Boston’s version of Manny Machado.
Red Sox spring training roster
Manager: John Farrell
|62||Rubby De La Rosa||6-1||185||24||R/R|
|25||Jackie Bradley Jr.||5-10||180||23||L/R|
50 Jose Mijares (L)
51 John Ely (R)
59 Tommy Layne (L)
60 Brayan Villarreal (R)
71 Matt Barnes (R)
75 Miguel Celestino (R)
76 Henry Owens (L)
78 Noe Ramirez (R)
94 Dalier Hinojosa (R)
80 Blake Swihart
23 Brandon Snyder
48 Mike McCoy
74 Deven Marrero
77 Travis Shaw
81 Heiker Meneses
2014 Red Sox spring training schedule
The Red Sox will play 17 games at JetBlue Park, the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., kicking off with a doubleheader against Northeastern and Boston College on Feb. 27.
|Thu., Feb. 27||Northeastern, BC||JetBlue Park||1|
|Fri., Feb. 28||Twins||JetBlue Park||1|
|Sat., March 1||Twins||Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers||1|
|Sun., March 2||Orioles||JetBlue Park||1|
|Mon., March 3||Pirates||Bradenton||1|
|Tue., March 4||Rays||JetBlue Park||1|
|Wed., March 5||Cardinals||Jupiter||1|
|Thu., March 6||Marlins||Jupiter||1|
|Fri., March 7||Braves||JetBlue Park||1|
|Sat., March 8||Orioles (ss)||Sarasota||1|
|Orioles (ss)||JetBlue Park||7|
|Sun., March 9||Pirates||Bradenton||1|
|Mon., March 10||Rays||JetBlue Park||1|
|Tue., March 11||Orioles (ss)||Sarasota||1|
|Marlins (ss)||JetBlue Park||1|
|Wed., March 12||OFF|
|Thu., March 13||Twins||Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers||1|
|Fri., March 14||Blue Jays||Dunedin||1|
|Sat., March 15||Phillies||JetBlue Park||7|
|Sun., March 16||Rays||Port Charlotte||1|
|Mon, March 17||Cardinals||JetBlue Park||1|
|Tue., March 18||Yankees||Tampa||1|
|Wed., March 19||Pirates||JetBlue Park||7|
|Thu., March 20||Yankees||JetBlue Park||7|
|Fri., March 21||Phillies||Clearwater||1|
|Sat., March 22||Braves||Kissimmee||1|
|Sun., March 23||Rays||JetBlue Park||1|
|Mon., March 24||Orioles||Sarasota||1|
|Tue., March 25||Rays||Port Charlotte||1|
|Wed., March 26||Orioles||JetBlue Park||1|
|Thu., March 27||Twins||JetBlue Park||7|
|Fri., March 28||Twins||Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers||1|
|Sat., March 29||Twins||JetBlue Park||1|