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MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Red Sox steadily on rebound in beastly AL East

Cherington's offseason moves, hiring of Farrell steer Boston in right direction

Red Sox steadily on rebound in beastly AL East
Somebody wrote the other day that the Red Sox have nowhere to go but up in 2013. Considering the disaster of 2012, not to mention 2011's September collapse, that's an understatement at best.

The good news for Red Sox Nation, however, is that there will be noticeable improvement, but predicting Boston will be a contender in the rugged American League East is a stretch.

The Red Sox's 69-93 finish was their worst since 1965. Even though general manager Ben Cherington has had a busy offseason, climbing out of last place seems like a Herculean task.

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Defending division champion New York will obviously contend, Wild Card winner Baltimore should be even stronger and Toronto is loaded. The Blue Jays have put together such a strong team with offseason additions that they should be the consensus favorite to win the East -- and return to the postseason for the first time since 1993.

Where does that leave Boston?

Veteran MLB.com reporter Ian Browne predicts the Red Sox have been reduced to a sleeper role at best, and I have to agree.

Cherington was finally able to land slugger Mike Napoli on Thursday for a one-year, $5 million contract, according to sources. That comes six weeks after a three-year, $39 million deal fell apart when Boston's medical staff discovered a hip issue.

There were reports the Red Sox had interest in Michael Morse, but when the Nationals traded him to Seattle in a three-team deal on Wednesday, the one-year contract with Napoli was worked out.

Napoli is just the latest Cherington move, none of which have jarred the baseball world.

I believe prying John Farrell away from Toronto to be the Red Sox manager will turn out to be the GM's best.

The Red Sox haven't been to the postseason for the past three years.

Terry Francona, who won two World Series, was at the controls when the Red Sox became the first team in history to blow a nine-game lead in September and lose their grasp on the 2011 AL Wild Card.

The Bobby Valentine experiment was a disaster. Despite all the fanfare and optimism a year ago, Bobby V opened and closed in one -- just one dreadful season.

The ruins of 2012 are still smoldering, and on top of that, Francona's new book paints an unkind portrait of the team's inner circle.

Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, GM Theo Epstein, Valentine, Francona, et al., are gone from the old regime.

That brings us to Cherington and Farrell.

In talking to the folks close to Farrell in Toronto, they say he's the perfect person to mesh the remaining players -- many with outstanding pedigrees -- and the newcomers into a cohesive unit.

Farrell, the Red Sox pitching coach in 2007-10, has an uncanny ability to unite the clubhouse, and there's no question his forte with pitchers should bode well in returning Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey (back from Tommy John surgery) to the form that once made them elite starters.

If the Red Sox are to be a sleeper, starting pitching will be key. That's a huge reason why Farrell will be so important to the turnaround.

Add to that the addition of reliever Joel Hanrahan, who was mostly under the radar as Pittsburgh's closer.

Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino are newcomers in the outfield, there's Stephen Drew at shortstop and starter Ryan Dempster in the new mix.

Three-time Gold Glove winner Victorino was a favorite with the Phillies and a key to their five consecutive division titles (2007-11). However, his inconsistency at the plate the past two years probably was the reason the Phillies dealt him to the Dodgers at the July 2012 Trading Deadline. Because he was a potential free agent, the Phillies were opposed to the multiyear deal Victorino sought.

The Red Sox weren't reluctant; they gave him a three-year, $39 million contract. Fenway Park should be the perfect venue to give Shane a new beginning. He'll certainly add energy to the clubhouse.

Victorino, Hanrahan and Napoli are typical of the Cherington deals: They aren't superstars but proven players who should contribute.

"We're trying to add to the team and improve the team in as many areas as we can without being as focused on the headline," Cherington told Browne. "We want to be as focused as we can on improving the team and building the roster in as many areas as we can.

"We're trying to build as deep a team as we can and filling the clubhouse with guys we can believe in -- building the team that way. We're going to continue to try to do that. The proof will be in the pudding. We'll see if we can execute it enough."

Fenway should be perfect for Napoli, a powerful right-handed pull hitter who's batted .306 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in Boston.

The Red Sox's mission in 2013 is rebuilding their credibility in one of Major League Baseball's most prestigious divisions.

That should be the first step before their often crazed fans envision their team returning to the top perch in the AL East.

Baby steps, if you will.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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