They blew a nine-game lead in September 2011, then finished in last place for the first time in 25 years and posted their worst record in 45 seasons in 2012, before rebounding all the way to a World Series championship in 2013. Boston encored with not one, but two more last-place finishes in 2014 and 2015 before reversing course again and winning the American League East this season.
With nine homegrown players, 11 trade acquisitions and five free agents on their Division Series roster, the Red Sox are an almost identical match for the average of the 10 playoff clubs. Where they stand out is that three different front-office executives deserve almost equal credit for assembling this year's club.
Theo Epstein, who presided over World Series championships in 2004 and 2007 during a nearly nine-year run as general manager, acquired nine of the players on Boston's ALDS 25-man roster. Ben Cherington, Epstein's assistant GM and successor, exceeded that total, with 10 -- and put together the 2013 championship club -- in four years before resigning last August after the Red Sox hired David Dombrowski as president of baseball operations. Dombrowski and current GM Mike Hazen, who has been with the franchise for a decade, have signed or traded for seven players since last offseason began.
Here's a look at how each player on the Red Sox's Division Series roster was initially acquired during his current stint with the club:
Player, how acquired, year:
Dustin Pedroia, Draft, 2004 (2nd round)
Clay Buchholz, Draft, 2007 (supplemental 1st round)
Christian Vazquez, Draft, 2008 (9th round)
Xander Bogaerts, Int'l sign, 2009
Matt Barnes, Draft, 2011 (1st round)
Jackie Bradley Jr., Draft 2011 (supplemental 1st round)
Mookie Betts, Draft, 2011 (5th round)
Travis Shaw, Draft, 2011 (9th round)
Andrew Benintendi, Draft, 2015 (1st round)
Few teams have drafted better than the Red Sox over the last decade or so, and their 2011 effort particularly stands out. They landed two of the best position players in baseball, a third starter and a set-up man.
The Red Sox liked Mookie Betts' athleticism and hitting ability enough to give him an over-slot $750,000 bonus in the fifth round, but the industry consensus was that he might lack a true plus tool or provide legitimate impact at the plate. Those aren't concerns any longer for a guy who might be the AL MVP after leading the Major Leagues with 359 total bases while hitting 31 homers, stealing 26 bases and playing stellar defense in right field.
Entering that year, Boston wouldn't have dreamed it could have gotten reigning College World Series MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. with the 40th overall pick. But he slid after he injured his wrist and struggled with toned-down bats as a junior at South Carolina, enabling the Red Sox to grab him for an over-slot $1.1 million. Always a quality defender, he struggled offensively in the big leagues before coming on last August, a prelude to slamming 26 homers this year.
Exceeding the offensive and defensive expectations that came with being a ninth-round pick, Travis Shaw was a revelation at third base in the first half of this season before slumping after the All-Star break. Matt Barnes, Boston's top choice in 2011 (19th overall), has found a niche in the bullpen and tied for second on the club with 16 holds this year. The club's Class of 2011 could look even stronger if Blake Swihart (first round) and Henry Owens (supplemental first round) live up to the promise they showed in the Minors.
At times during the playoffs, the Red Sox could stack two-thirds of their lineup with homegrown players. Dustin Pedroia, their top pick in 2004 (second round), is another classic overachiever. Andrew Benintendi, their first choice in last year's Draft (seventh overall), reached Fenway Park sooner than expected but immediately impressed on both sides of the ball.
Boston's lone international signee, Xander Bogaerts, joined Betts and Bradley at the 2016 All-Star Game. Then-Red Sox scout Mike Lord actually spotted Bogaerts' twin Jair first during a scouting trip to Aruba in 2009, and learned of Xander (who was sick with the chicken pox at the time) when he asked Jair if there were any other players he needed to see. Bogaerts started in the 2013 World Series as a 20-year-old and has gotten better in each of this three full seasons in the Majors.
Player, year, acquired from:
Brock Holt, 2012, Pirates
Joe Kelly, 2014, Cardinals
Marco Hernandez, 2014, Cubs
Eduardo Rodriguez, 2014, Orioles
Rick Porcello, 2014, Tigers
Robbie Ross, 2015, Rangers
Sandy Leon, 2015, Nationals
Craig Kimbrel, 2015, Padres
Aaron Hill, 2016, Brewers
Brad Ziegler, 2016, Diamondbacks
Drew Pomeranz, 2016, Padres
Cherington did nice work on the trade market, both in terms of the players he acquired and those he refused to trade. While the club struggled in 2014-15, he refused to part with Betts, Bogaerts or Bradley in return for short-term fixes.
Half of Boston's playoff rotation is the product of Cherington trades. Eduardo Rodriguez came from the Orioles at the 2014 trade deadline in exchange for Andrew Miller. He also got Yoenis Cespedes from the Athletics for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes at the deadline, then spun Cespedes and two prospects to the Tigers in December for Rick Porcello, who has blossomed into a Cy Young Award contender and led the Majors with 22 victories this year.
Several of what seemed to be minor Cherington moves have paid off handsomely for the Red Sox. All-Star Steven Wright, who'd be in the playoff rotation if not for a shoulder injury, arrived via a 2012 trade with the Indians for Lars Anderson. Super-sub Brock Holt, a 2015 All-Star, was lightly regarded when the Pirates gave him up in a 2012 deal for Mark Melancon. Sandy Leon was acquired in a cash deal with the Nationals at the end of Spring Training in 2015, then suddenly developed into an offensive force this year.
Dombrowski, who was the president/CEO/GM who traded Porcello to the Red Sox, has used the more bountiful farm system he found in Boston to upgrade the pitching staff. His first major transaction was sending Top 100 Prospects Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra and two more promising youngsters in Logan Allen and Carlos Asuaje to the Padres last November for closer Craig Kimbrel.
Dombrowski went back to San Diego this July for All-Star starter Drew Pomeranz, giving up another Top 100 Prospect (Anderson Espinoza) in a deal that became controversial when it was learned that Padres GM A.J. Preller withheld medical information and Pomeranz came down with forearm soreness that will limit him to a relief role in the playoffs.
All told, Dombrowski acquired three pieces of the postseason roster in July. In deals involving lesser prospects, he plugged a bullpen hole with Brad Ziegler and added another third-base option in Aaron Hill.
David Ortiz, 2003
Koji Uehara, 2012
Hanley Ramirez, 2014
Chris Young, 2015
David Price, 2015
Epstein's signing of David Ortiz for a non-guaranteed, one-year, $1.25 million contract in January 2003 stands among the best free-agent deals of all time. Ortiz has been a major part of eight playoff clubs and three World Series titles, and he's geared up for a run at one more championship after leading the big leagues in doubles (48), extra-base hits (87), slugging (.620) and OPS (1.021) during his farewell season.
Cherington pressed all the right free-agent buttons after the 2012 season, signing seven players who made strong contributions to the 2013 World Series championship club. Koji Uehara is the only one who remains with Boston, where he has a 2.19 ERA in four seasons, and he didn't allow a run in September after returning from a pectoral strain.
Signing Pablo Sandoval (five years, $95 million) and Hanley Ramirez (four years, $88 million) to megacontracts worked out disastrously for Cherington in 2015. Ramirez, who originally signed with the Red Sox as a Dominican amateur in 2000, rebounded this season with 30 homers and a career-high 111 RBIs.
After trading for him in Detroit, Dombrowski gave David Price a contract that exceeded the combined value of Sandoval and Ramirez's. Price signed for seven years and $217 million last December, which set a record for most money ever guaranteed a pitcher and matched another of highest average annual value (since broken by Zack Greinke). Price will appear in his fourth straight postseason (with four different teams) after topping the Majors with 35 starts and 230 innings.