Cockcroft: Boston Red Sox preview

Looking at the final 2006 American League East standings, it's hard to believe that, for three weeks beyond the All-Star break, the Red Sox were actually the leaders in the division. But the New York Yankees overtook them on Aug. 3, and from there, things only spiraled downward. The Red Sox lost five consecutive games in Tampa Bay and Kansas City in early August, got swept by the Yankees in a five-game series that would later be called the "Boston Massacre II" Aug. 18-21, and finished 22-34 in their final 56 games.

The result: A third-place finish, 11 games out of the division lead, and 10 games out of the playoffs. It snapped Boston's eight-year streak of second-place finishes, and string of three consecutive postseason appearances. Plus, it raised nothing but questions regarding the team's depth and some of its players' commitment to winning. By early September, no-names like Lenny DiNardo, Kason Gabbard, Kevin Jarvis and Kyle Snyder and long-time relievers like Julian Tavarez were rounding out more than half the rotation, and cleanup hitter Manny Ramirez was mostly on the sidelines nursing a knee problem.

One might wonder whether a team in such a situation might consider rebuilding, but instead, these Red Sox retooled this winter, throwing more than $100 million -- contract and posting fee considered -- at Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, $36 million at shortstop Julio Lugo, their probable new leadoff man, and potentially $70 million at outfielder J.D. Drew, who drove in a career-high 100 runs in 2006. (Drew's contract has yet to be made official.)