Ben Cherington Trying to Avoid Bridge Year in 2013, Could Be Moving Toward Oakland Blueprint

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Ben Cherington Trying to Avoid Bridge Year in 2013, Could Be Moving Toward Oakland BlueprintBOSTON — The Red Sox lineup has holes all over.

With Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and
Nick Punto gone, the Red Sox will be in the market for a first baseman, a
starting pitcher, a left fielder and possibly reinforcements on the bench.

So where does that leave Boston in 2013? Will that
year be a — gasp — bridge year for one of the biggest markets in Major League
Baseball? Well, Red Sox manager Ben Cherington isn't convinced of that yet.

"The development path is rarely linear," Cherington
said. "Will Middlebrooks came up and maybe did it a little quicker than we
thought, and so that happens, and then the opposite happens sometimes. We feel
good about the progression of the talent, the system we've added to that talent
with this deal, and it is moving toward the upper levels of this system."

This year's Oakland Athletics embody that philosophy.
Over the offseason, Athletics general manager Billy Beane traded away pitchers
Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for hordes of prospects.

Instead of toiling away in last place, the Athletics have
posted a 69-57 record, tied for the American League wild card lead. Youngsters
Jarrod Parker, Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris have carried the A's
along the way.

The Red Sox may be headed toward a similar blueprint.
With Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront blossoming for the Red Sox this season, Cherington may have the hope he needs to accelerate the youth movement.

It's preferable to the alternative of slumping
through the season with three high-profile superstars underachieving.

"We don't know exactly when these [prospects] will
show up or if they'll show up — that's the nature of the beast," Cherington
said. "In the meantime, we're going to do whatever we can to build the
best team we can for 2013. That will certainly involve looking outside the
organization, too."

The payroll has enough space to fill the
vacancies. Make no mistake — the Red Sox aren't banking on a bridge year.

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