The Red Sox ended their season one win short of another improbable comeback and their third World Series trip in the last five years. Considering all the success they've experienced this decade, it'd be easy to call 2008 a failure.
But that would be folly, a twisted Boston-flavored version of the Steinbrenner Doctrine. You can't define success in the era of the three-tiered postseason by championships. There's simply too much parity and too much variance in a short series to expect any team to wind up in the World Series every year.
So instead, let's take a quick look at what the Red Sox accomplished this year and spin forward to 2009.
Despite major injuries to David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew, lost seasons from Jason Varitek and Clay Buchholz and the departure of the team's best hitter, Manny Ramirez, at the trade deadline, Boston managed to win 95 games. There probably isn't any other team in baseball who could have gone through all of that and still had the organizational depth to qualify for the postseason in the AL East.
The Red Sox have several question marks heading into the offseason. Varitek is a free agent and Boston will have to make a very difficult decision about its captain with his best years behind him. GM Theo Epstein will need to figure out what to do with Lugo, who has been displaced at shortstop by Jed Lowrie, and once again deal with the logjam at center field created by having Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp on the same roster. And, of course, the tempation will be there to upgrade via the free agent or trade market, with CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Jake Peavy just a few of the big names out there.
But all in all, there isn't that much for Epstein to do. Making a big free agent splash after falling one win short of the World Series is a solution for the turn-of-the-millennium Yankees. The Red Sox have one of the best farm systems in the game. They won't be shy about splurging for a big free agent if he's the right player -- Matsuzaka being a perfect example -- but most of their improvements are going to come from within.
That's been Epstein's vision since he took the reins as general manager, and it will keep Boston in contention for years to come.