MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Now comes the hard part for the champion Red Sox

Now comes the hard part for the champion Red Sox

Now comes the hard part for the champion Red Sox

The celebration is over. The parade has been held. Now it's back to reality for the Boston Red Sox.

The World Series title is something the fans and franchise will cherish. Now comes the hard part.

For all of the storybook moments of a season in which the Red Sox went from worst to first, joining the 1991 Minnesota Twins as the only teams to finish in last place in the division one year and win a World Series the next, odds are against Boston getting back to the World Series, much less defending its championship.

That's no knock on what the Red Sox have accomplished with a revamped clubhouse and the arrival of manager John Farrell in 2013 to take over for Bobby Valentine. It's just reality.

Since the second half of the 1970s, when the Reds ('75-76) and the Yankees ('77-78) won back-to-back championships, only three of the 34 clubs to win a World Series have defended their title -- the Blue Jays in 1993 and the Yanks in 1999-2000.

Only seven times has a defending World Series champion even returned to the Fall Classic. The Phillies lost to the Yankees in 2009, the Yanks lost to the D-backs in '01, the Braves lost to the Yankees in 1996 and the A's lost to the Reds in '90.

And only 12 of the previous 33 defending World Series champions even got to the postseason. In addition to the seven who advanced to the Fall Classic -- St. Louis in 2012, the Yankees in '10 and Boston in '08 -- all lost in the League Championship Series.

San Francisco, which went from 2012 champions to a 76-86 record in '13, is one of eight of the previous 33 defending champions that didn't have a winning record the following year. Only six of the 33 saw their record improve in the encore season.

The most dramatic dropoffs were the 1997 Marlins, who went from 92-70 to 54-108, and the 2002 Angels, who went from 99-63 to 77-85.

The defending World Series champions won an average of eight fewer games, allowing for adjustments created by abbreviated seasons in 1981 and 1994-95.

Worst to first
How did the nine other teams -- not including the 1991 Twins and 2013 Red Sox -- that went from last place to first place fare in the postseason?

Four lost in the World Series: Atlanta, in 1991 to Minnesota; Philadelphia, in '93 to Toronto; San Diego, in '98 to the Yankees; and Tampa Bay, in '08 to Philadelphia.

Arizona, in 2007, lost in the NLCS to Colorado.

And four others lost in the Division Series: San Francisco to Florida in 1997; Arizona to the Mets in '99; the Cubs to Arizona in '07; and Arizona to Milwaukee in '11.

Not-so-free agents
A big part of the challenge for teams to repeat is free agency. Boston has four regular members of its lineup on the market this winter -- center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, 30; catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 28; first baseman Mike Napoli, 32; and shortstop Stephen Drew, 30.

Napoli and Drew were free-agent gambles a year ago that paid off. The Red Sox initially agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Napoli, but a physical showed hip problems in the catcher-turned-first-baseman, and the deal was reworked to a one-year contract with a $5 million base and incentives. Napoli wound up meeting those incentives, resulting in his making the original $13 million. The oft-injured Drew battled a hamstring problem but managed to play in 124 games after being limited to 79 in 2012 and 86 in '11.

Finally free
It's no surprise that Cleveland pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez declined his $8 million option for 2014, particularly after compiling a 2.61 ERA from April 29 to season's end. Remember, it was the contract situation that led to the trade of Jimenez to the Indians in July 2011.

Signed to a four-year, $10 million deal prior to the 2009 season that included club options for his first two years of potential free agency ($5.75 million in 2013 and $8 million in '14), Jimenez forced the issue with the Rockies when they signed multiyear deals with Troy Tulowitzki (10 years, $157.75 million) and Carlos Gonzalez (seven years, $80 million) but declined to renegotiate his deal. A clause in Jimenez's contract made the option for '14 Jimenez's option and not the club's, and after the strong five months to end '13, he decided to try free agency.

Jimenez was 26-30 with a 4.45 ERA in his two seasons plus two months with Cleveland.

Managerial matters
With Detroit hiring Brad Ausmus as its new manager, there have been three managerial hirings this offseason, and all three have no previous managerial experience -- Ausmus, Matt Williams in Washington and Bryan Price in Cincinnati. The Cubs and Mariners still have managers to hire, but there are now nine of 28 managers under contract who had never managed before getting their current jobs.

Five of them did have some organizational insight, being prompted from within. Price was the Reds' pitching coach. Don Mattingly was on Joe Torre's coach staff with the Dodgers. Kirk Gibson was on predecessor A.J. Hinch's staff in Arizona.

Mike Matheny with St. Louis and Robin Ventura with the Chicago White Sox were working in the Minor League systems of those organizations after having spent a large chunk of their playing days with those clubs.

In addition to Williams, a coach in Arizona, and Ausmus, a special assistant in San Diego, Bud Black was the pitching coach with the Angels when he was hired, and Walt Weiss, who had earlier been a special assistant with Colorado, was the head coach at Regis High School at the time the Rockies called.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.