With the start of Spring Training less than two weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2017 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, continuing with the starting rotation.
Flash back to two years ago. The Red Sox had come up short in their bid to reacquire Jon Lester as a free agent. John Lackey had been traded to the Cardinals a few months earlier. Boston was downright ace-less.
And now, the conversation regarding the ace has changed entirely.
Entering the highly anticipated 2017 season, the Sox have three pitchers (Rick Porcello, David Price and Chris Sale) who could legitimately whip their necks around when they hear someone say "ace."
They have two others (Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz) who made the All-Star team last year. Then there is 23-year-old lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who certainly has the stuff to become an All-Star at some point.
Pitching coach Carl Willis has a lot to work with when it comes to shutting down opposing lineups.
"We're excited obviously about the three guys we talked about at the front end of the rotation, but the guys competing for the last two spots, you've got two All-Stars and a guy who started the season last year projected to be our No. 2 in Eddie Rodriguez, who had the unfortunate knee injury back in Spring Training," said Willis. "That's a pretty good group of six guys for those five spots."
The potential durability of Boston's rotation is as much a strong point as the talent. Of the nine American League pitchers who logged 200 innings or more last season, three are now with the Red Sox.
Though Price wasn't as consistent as expected in his first year with the Red Sox, he still led the AL with 230 innings while striking out 228. Sale, who was acquired in a December blockbuster from the White Sox, finished third in innings at 226 2/3 and second with 233 strikeouts. Porcello was not just the surprise of the season in Boston, but maybe in MLB, breaking out with an AL Cy Young Award-winning season that included 22 wins, 223 innings and 189 strikeouts.
"I think moreso than anything, it's going to push each individual on the staff to kind of raise the bar and keep it up when it's going good, and if you hit a rough patch, we can stop it," Sale said. "On paper, we're looking good. It's about going out and doing it."
The type of talent the Red Sox have assembled in the rotation could create a swagger throughout the clubhouse.
"Whenever you have five guys that can go out there and all five guys have the ability to dominate a lineup, your team is going to come in every day and expect to win," said Price. "Position players aren't coming in and saying, 'Who's pitching today?' Nobody cares. We feel like we can win every day. To have that, it takes pressure off pitchers, it takes pressure off the bullpen, and it helps position players as well, knowing we have five guys that can go out there and pitch deep into the ballgame and keep runs at a minimum. It helps everybody."
It will be interesting to see how the presence of the big three rubs off on Pomeranz and Rodriguez, who are trying to get to that next level.
"It's a pretty incredible opportunity just to even be around those guys and pick their brains -- how they throw guys, their pitches, their whole thought process," said Pomeranz. "I'll try to take things here and there."
The one thing the Red Sox don't want to be? Paper champions.
"You don't win games or championships on paper," said Porcello. "You've got to go out there and get it done on the field. So there's a lot that we need to accomplish, and I'm looking forward to it definitely."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.