The World Series that's rapidly approaching will be only the twelfth after 2004. That, of course, was the year the Boston Red Sox broke their 86-year drought, coming back from a 3–0 deficit in the ALCS to the Yankees and sweeping the
Colorado Rockies St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series itself. 2004, therefore, was also the year that the Red Sox transitioned from valiant underdogs to just another successful big-market team. It's astonishing how quickly it happened, perhaps because the Red Sox repeated with two more World Series victories in the next decade, but happen it did. Any goodwill the Red Sox had built up after the repeated heartbreaks of 1945, 1975, 1986, and 2003 has been spent in an instant.
The Red Sox should expect no pity after they were quietly swept by Cleveland. First, they aren't scrappy underdogs anymore, and haven't been for years. Not only have they won championships in the very recent past, they've done so while blowing most other teams out of the water in terms of payroll. But second, there's no looming disaster in their future. Even the Yankees, easily the most hateable team in baseball, were somewhat pitiable this season, as they came to terms with their bleak future. Of course, they'll spend their way out of it and regain their hated status in about six months, but for the Yankees to seem deserving of sympathy, even for a moment, is remarkable.
In terms of teams that made the playoffs, the Rangers are the best example of this. As Jeff Sullivan pointed out over at FanGraphs, not only was Texas swept in the first round, they also face the prospect of filling several holes across the diamond and rotation with only $20-ish million in budget space (if they keep their payroll constant). Nor does it seem like standing pat with their current roster would be good enough; by nearly every measure we have, the Rangers were substantially worse than their record would indicate, and they should not expect to win 95 games in 2017 with this same collection of players.
The Red Sox, of course, were swept too. That sucks! It will continue to suck, for Red Sox players and fans, for a while. But while the reckoning that is threatening the Rangers makes them deserving of pity even from uninterested persons, there's no reason to feel bad for the Red Sox.
For one, they were much better than their record (and undignified playoff exit) would seem to indicate. By BaseRuns, available at FanGraphs, they hit and pitched like a 102–60 team, best in the AL by a whopping eleven games; by Baseball Prospectus's third-order winning percentage, they were a 103–59 team, leading the AL by nine games. And the roster that played at such a high level is largely returning. Of course, David Ortiz is departing, but beyond him, there's not a single contributing position player whose contract is up. On the pitching side, the contracts of both Brad Ziegler and Koji Uehara are expiring, and Clay Buchholz has a $13 million option the Red Sox can choose to pick up.
That's it. It's not just the core of this very good Red Sox team that's returning; it's the core, mantle, and most of the crust. It only gets better if you look past 2017. Consider the following Red Sox depth chart, made up only of players with at least three more years of team control:
Outfield: Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts
Infield: Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez*, Travis Shaw
Catchers: Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart
Rotation: David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright
*Assuming his 2019 option vests.
That's nuts! I'm not trying to suggest that nothing can go wrong with any of those players, or that they're all going to be worth whatever salary they're making (looking at you, Sandoval/Ramirez). But it seems pretty obvious that a lot is going to go right with that group, particularly with the young outfielders. That would be a great start to a roster for a single year, and it's an incredible core to be able to plan around with for multiple.
So while the Red Sox lost, and while David Ortiz's farewell season didn't follow the storybook path that seemed to be laid out for it, Boston should expect no pity. This was a very talented team, and signs point to it staying that way for the near future.