Needless to say, with 18 games left, a meaningless mid-September series with theYankees at Fenway having just finished and the team nowhere within a sniff of a playoff spot, Red Sox Nation is looking ahead to 2013.

Some fans are hopeful that this particular squad was a misguided group of ballplayers that can right the ship next year and contend once again, just like normal. Others are taking a more realistic approach, knowing full-well that Boston needs to take a step back and readjust their strategic approach on running a ballclub.

This article is for the first group of people; the "delusional diehards," if you will.

To think of Boston as a contender at this time next year is a concept that is currently hard to grasp. But hey, who foresaw the Oakland Athletics having the fourth-best record in MLB on September 14?

(Well, probably Billy Beane. But besides him, who?)

The point is, just because the Red Sox seem doomed in their near future, no team can be ruled out on Opening Day.

It's the greatest thing about the game of baseball. 

Previous 2 of 13 Next

Bobby Valentine Will Likely Be Back in a TV Studio

It's where he belongs.

After being out of the major league for a decade, it was obvious that he just wasn't fit to manage the style of play that the game had developed into.

Combined with not being the right piece to bring this team back from what happened a year ago, his managerial ineptitude ensured Valentine was never capable of handling the responsibilities that come along with managing the Boston Red Sox.

This isn't to say that Valentine couldn't manage somewhere else along the line. Honestly, if he could put his pride aside and suck it up, it probably wouldn't hurt to manage a Triple-A team or serve as a bench coach and sort of work his way back in.

It just shouldn't be in Boston.

Ben Cherington Will Have More Front Office Pull

Despite Thursday's news that CEO Larry Lucchino has signed an extension and will be back next year, general manager Ben Cherington won't have a leash around his neck that gets yanked every time he tries to make a move that ownership isn't fully in favor of.

Should Valentine get the ax, the managerial search for his replacement will solely be at the discretion of Cherington, unlike last year, when his pick (Dale Sveum) was nixed by Lucchino and principal owner John Henry.

Combine that with the fact that from November to February, Cherington can make his shopping list as long as he wants it to be and there's reason to get excited once again. 

It's a Contract Year for Jacoby Ellsbury

Call it a coincidence, but for some reason, Scott Boras' clients always seem to have career years in the final year of their respective deals before they hit the free-agent market.

Right now, it's looking like Ellsbury had his career year two seasons early when he hit .321, hit 32 home runs and drove in 105 RBIs. Those numbers are an anomaly compared to his 2012 totals of .267/3/20. He's never even hit more than nine home runs in any other season.

For Ellsbury to earn the kind of money Boras will be looking for ($18-20 million per season, or more), the center fielder will have to prove next year that 2011 was the standard, not the exception.

Jon Lester Will Be at the Head of the Bounce-Back Committee

Lester has been Boston's most consistent pitcher since his first full season in 2008, going 65-32 in the four seasons prior to this year.

There's no hard-proof, logical reason that a 28-year-old with those numbers, entering the prime of his career, should finish a season under .500 with an ERA that hovers around 5.00 without serious injury.

Boston will be counting on Lester to prove that his 2012 season was a fluke and will expect him lead the staff for 2013's reclamation project.

If you're a betting man (or woman), put your money on him to bounce back and be that guy.

The Headaches and Distractions Surrounding Carl Crawford's Situation Are Gone

Let's face it, this was just stressful.

Now that Crawford and his hurt wrist/elbow/feelings are in Los Angeles, they're the Dodgers' problems. No more questioning will he/won't he be ready for Opening Day/before the All-Star break/before the end of his seven-year contract?

He's even stressing me out because I have to include so many slashes and variables when writing about him.

However, the Red Sox no longer have to worry about his situation(s) being a distraction to the team, in the clubhouse or in the media. 

The focus can go back to the players who are actually on the field.

Previous 7 of 13 Next

John Lackey Will Be Determined to Prove He Isn't a Worthless Stiff

I know.

It's tough to picture John Lackey being anything but a worthless stiff these days, but if there was ever a case for a guy to come back from a dismal first impression, it's Lackey.

In his 10 years in baseball, Lackey has pieced together a respectable win-loss ratio of 128-94 (12.8-9.4 per season), while compiling a career ERA of 4.10. Take out his 2011 season—he led the league in earned runs and received Tommy John surgery after—and his career ERA dips to 3.89.

If Lackey can give the Sox a sub-4.00 ERA and 13-14 wins as a third or fourth starter, he'll be back on track.

Previous 8 of 13 Next

Pedro Ciriaco, Baby!

He may just be batting .253 against every other opponent, but Ciriaco hits when it counts—against the Yankees. The utility man is batting .436 against the Bronx Bombers, with 17 of his 57 hits on the season coming against New York.

While not expected to be a top-level major leaguer, Ciriaco is still just 26-years-old and it'll be interesting to see the kind of player he develops into next year with another year under his belt.

Daisuke Matsuzaka Will Be off the Payroll and Back in Japan (Most Likely)

This never worked.

Even with his flukey 18-3 season, Red Sox fans would love to take his six years in Boston and intentionally amnese themselves. His career has been so bad that the word amnese needed to be invented.

His 18 wins in 2008 are more than he has in the past four seasons combined. There's a high likelihood that he won't even be looked at by other teams in the league this offseason and he'll head back to Japan.

All that matters is that he won't be calling Fenway home anymore.

The Wicked Witch Is Dead...or Now Just Resides in L.A.

He's gone!

No more Texas Tough Guy, no more chicken and beer, no more skipping starts only to be seen on a golf course the next day.

No more nonsense. 

With the influence of Beckett now on a completely opposite coast of the United States, players like Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and even John Lackey will be less distracted and less tempted to be the source of problems in the clubhouse.

It cannot be overstated how important it is that this player is not in a Boston Red Sox uniform anymore.

Previous 11 of 13 Next

With Gonzalez and Crawford off the Payroll, the Options Are Plenty

Now that Magic Johnson and Co. are paying an outfielder who just underwent Tommy John surgery and an under-performing, out-of-shape first baseman, the Red Sox have some options for what they do with their payroll.

If they wanted to spend it on Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, they could.

(This would be a terrible mistake, but they can afford to make it.)

Other than that, they can pick and choose how they spend their money, or they can develop from within and wait for a better crop of free agents next year.

Either way, they aren't locked into a boatload of money in Crawford and Gonzalez with no end in sight.

It's relieving.

Above All Else, There's Nowhere to Go but Up from Here

With the Red Sox currently slated to pick at seventh overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, there's hope that they'll land another cornerstone piece of the franchise. It's the first time in nearly two decades that the team has even picked in the top 10. 

It'll be the last time for awhile, too.

Things are bad right now. They have been since last September.

However, fans know that things won't stay this dismal for very long. The city of Boston won't allow it to happen. The drive for competitive baseball in this town is so high that it literally has the power to force ownership into selling the team. It's scary, but it does.

So calm down, Boston. 

There's plenty to look forward to next season.