Say hello to your 2019 Red Sox.

Make that hello again.

You will not have any issue recognizing anyone on this defending world championship team.

Virtually everyone’s back from last year, and virtually everyone who’s new is not stepping into a starring role.

There will be no awkward wondering about how so-and-so is going to adjust to playing in Boston, no questions remaining about Alex Cora’s fitness to manage.

Nope, the wonder and mystery to this year’s Red Sox team revolves around only one unknown.

Will familiarity breed success again?

In other words, does cloning work?

The Red Sox, even with one glaring hole still remaining – sup, Craig Kimbrel? – want us to believe that what worked so well in 2018 is going to work so well in 2019, too.

They’re going to be very good again, and there’s nothing wrong with aiming high.

But familiar faces don’t guarantee familiar fates – stepping out of one’s comfort zone once in awhile tends to offer its own rewards.

Baseball hasn’t seen a repeat champion since the 2000 Yankees, who were at the tail-end of a three-peat in a dynastic run that began in 1996, the same year scientists cloned a mammal, Dolly the sheep, from an adult mammal for the first time.

Now this returning Red Sox team has jumped all aboard the “repeat” train unlike any of the past three returning champions.

The 2005 Red Sox had a celebration hangover that helped them believe David Wells and Matt Clement were a decent substitute for Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. The first-round playoff loss to the White Sox said otherwise.

The 2008 Red Sox, who came closest to using the “why change if you don’t have to” formula, never got over its jet lag from the season-opening trip to Tokyo, although it at least extended the ALCS to seven games.

And the 2014 Red Sox? Last place, baby.

The 2019 Red Sox? Its core is as good as any, and the team is not saving any bullets for a run through the end of October.

They are re-using those bullets, though.

“Throughout the offseason, they’re staying locked in, it’s hard to believe,” Cora said last month. “Sometimes I wonder. I sit down at home and think, ‘It’s not possible.’ We text and we call and we talk about next year. Yeah, we’re celebrating and we’re enjoying the whole thing but it looks like they turned the page a month ago. They’re locked in.”

In an offseason notable as much for the lack of snow around Boston as for the teams who could afford a superstar free agent such as Bryce Harper or Manny Machado who did not dig deep and seize their rare opportunity to go big and bold, the Red Sox’s stand-pat attitude exists in its own realm.

Their sky-high payroll, which should top the majors once again, is a testament to the team’s willingness to spend money – when it wishes.

This year, the team did not wish to spend top dollar on a foreign investment like a Harper or Machado or Zack Britton.

The money the team spent on free agents – $68 million for four years of Nathan Eovaldi, $6.25 million for one year from Steve Pearce – was on familiar faces.

And if that doesn’t tell you that this team wants no part in tinkering with success, just chew on the fact that they even brought back reliever Carson Smith.

The oft-injured Smith is a longshot to aid the Red Sox’s oft-maligned bullpen that proved so many so wrong with its postseason performance. But Joe Kelly’s a Dodger now, and top-shelf free agents such as Britton, Adam Ottavino and Andrew Miller are already signed.

And while Kimbrel’s fate looks as if it will have to wait until after Machado and Harper sign so that teams left out of that equation can lock in on Kimbrel, he probably is not coming back here.

It’s a stretch to subscribe to the Red Sox’s party line that Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier can fill in for Kimbrel as well as anyone else.

But count the Red Sox among the believers, at least in public.

“Really the one thing that is significantly different is that we lost two guys, and what’s significant is we don’t have a proven closer,” said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. “Sometimes you have to evaluate where you’re going to spend your dollars. We decided to keep back the rest of the core of the club. We like our team a great deal and we think some of the guys internally can do the job. Can we get better? Perhaps.”

Perhaps.

All we can say at the beginning of spring training is that the Red Sox liked what they saw so much last year, they decided to hit “replay” and watch it play out again. The beginning and middle could easily play out like last year.

But the ending?

Sticking to the script seldom works. The Red Sox should be prepared to improvise.


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