When Chris Sale walked into the Fort Myers clubhouse last weekend, he reportedly received a standing ovation from his teammates.

That marks one of the differences between the 2019 Boston Red Sox and 2014 Red Sox, who were also defending World Series champions. Back then, Boston had a chance to lock up its ace, Jon Lester, to a long-term contract. But Lester turned down a low-ball offer from ownership. Grumbling replaced applause in the clubhouse.

It’s 2019, and the Red Sox just secured a five-year, $145-million extension for Sale – their ace.

It was just one decision among several made by team president Dave Dombrowski … decisions that should have the Red Sox hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy for a second straight year – the first back-to-back champion since those three-peat Yankees of 1998-2000. (Please note the “should” in that statement; only blowhards make guarantees in baseball.)

• Signing Sale not only ends any distraction about his potential free agency, but sends a message that the franchise intends to keep winning. Re-signing Nathan Eovaldi also solidified one of the best rotations in baseball.

If there is a concern over the starters, it’s depth. Believe it or not, Boston may miss Drew Pomeranz. Yes, the lefty underachieved, but he did provide 11 starts last season. Pomeranz’s departure and Steven Wright’s 80-game suspension for a performance-enhancing substance has thinned starting options for Alex Cora. Wright made four starts last year and figured to make more.

Brian Johnson (13 starts last year) and Hector Velazquez (eight starts) are in the bullpen and, presumably, ready for a spot start. In Pawtucket, one starter is on the 40-man roster (Chandler Shepherd, still looking for his major league debut).

Three minor league free agents may be called upon – Erasmo Ramirez (92 MLB starts), Josh Smith (nine starts) and Ryan Weber (eight).

• The bullpen is always a concern, isn’t it? Dombrowski was lampooned last July for not trading for another reliever. Things worked out. Now the worry is over not re-signing closer Craig Kimbrel, although I think losing Joe Kelly is a bigger loss. Kimbrel was going to cost too much – a fact that keeps him unsigned – and his 5.89 postseason ERA last year were reason enough to stay away.

Are bullpens ever settled in the spring? In 2013, the Red Sox featured closer Joel Hanrahan, set-up man Andrew Bailey and hard-throwing lefty Andrew Miller. Injuries ended Hanrahan’s season in May, and both Bailey’s and Miller’s in July.

Things worked out. Koji Uehara (1.09 ERA) saved 21 games.

The pen has depth, with options in Pawtucket and, eventually, in Portland, where Darwinzon Hernandez and Durbin Feltman start the year.

• Dombrowski finally dealt with his three-headed catching situation and put Sandy Leon on waivers – which worked out since no team claimed him, and Leon is now in Pawtucket. Christian Vazquez assumes the No. 1 spot, but Blake Swihart gives the position some offensive potential that it did not have with Leon (.177 average last year).

• On the left side of the infield, Boston re-signed Steve Pearce to platoon with Mitch Moreland at first base.

Dombrowski did not bring in extra reinforcements to back up second baseman Dustin Pedroia. But there are utility infielders Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez (though a liability at second base). Super sub Tzu-Wei Lin is entering his third year on the Pawtucket-to-Boston shuffle and may make an impact.

• Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is in his free-agent year (he’s a Scott Boras client, so an extension was unlikely). Will impending free agency motivate Bogaerts or be a distraction?

The Killer B’s outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts is back, along with slugger J.D. Martinez and third baseman Rafael Devers, who could be in for a breakout season.

The roster looks right. Back-to-back titles for Boston? All the makings are there.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-7411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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