fb-pixel Skip to main content

For the first time, Alex Cora presides over a Red Sox roster that remains very unsettled in mid-December.

In an effort to offer a simulacrum of Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, managers have spent the week fielding questions from reporters via Zoom. During his prior in-person sessions as Red Sox manager from 2017-19, Cora spent much of his time discussing lineup construction and how he planned to deploy a roster that — to that point in the offseason — had undergone little change, and that had few moving parts.

On Thursday, Cora described a different circumstance. His roster features unknowns in several areas, in terms of returning players who endured injuries, struggles, or both in 2020, as well as holes that have yet to be addressed.


“This puzzle is not completed,” said Cora. “There’s a few pieces we’re missing and we’re looking for, and the opportunity will be there [to find them].”

Among the acknowledged areas of uncertainty:

Starting rotation

Upgrades remain the top priority. Cora said the Red Sox are flipping over virtually every rock in search of additions.

“Those conversations are going on and on. It’s not on and off. It’s on and on,” said Cora. “[The front office has] been relentless as far as exploring the market and exploring everything. If you hear a rumor about the Red Sox and this guy, yeah we’re doing our homework and we’re trying to be better . . . There’s a lot [of starters] out there that can help us.”

Of course, the greatest impact to the rotation is likely to come from the returns of lefthander Eduardo Rodríguez — who posted to Instagram a glimpse of an indoor mound session on Wednesday — and eventually Chris Sale from Tommy John surgery.

Cora said that Rodríguez, after being shut down for the 2020 season because of myocarditis that developed after a COVID-19 infection, is going through the offseason as a “regular person,” an encouraging sign. The club has avoided specific timetables with Sale, though he’s expected to return sometime in the summer.


While Cora sees a rotation with Sale, Rodríguez, and Nate Eovaldi as formidable, he also noted that given the workload limitations of all three, the Red Sox need to find ways of protecting them. For now, the team hasn’t discussed a six-man rotation, but it is working to build depth to help pitchers reestablish their workloads after a shortened (or missed) 2020.


While the bullpen was dreadful last season, posting a 5.79 ERA (fourth-worst in the majors) thanks to a lack of swing-and-miss stuff (24.0 percent strikeout rate, 17th in the majors) and a proclivity for giving up loud contact (1.6 homers per nine innings, sixth-highest in MLB), Cora sounded confident in the returning group.

Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernandez struggled with health and performance last year after dealing with COVID-19 infections, leaving what Cora described as “a big gap.” If they’re back and available alongside Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and intriguing righthander Austin Brice (who had the highest swing-and-miss rate on four-seam fastballs in the majors), Cora said he is “comfortable with the cards that we have.”

Matt Barnes could be in line to be the closer in 2021.
Matt Barnes could be in line to be the closer in 2021.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Though Cora didn’t say Barnes will close, he’s open to using Barnes in such a role — while noting how much he values the versatility afforded by the righthander in facing the heart of a lineup anywhere in the last three innings.


“Matt Barnes is one of the best relievers the last few years in the big leagues, and I have total trust in him,” said Cora.

Second base

Cora described Christian Arroyo — who hit .240/.296/.440 in a 14-game audition at the end of the year — as a player with “a lot of upside” whom the Sox like. Cora, in fact, noted that he tried to get Arroyo to play for Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He also mentioned Michael Chavis (.212/.259/.377 in 2020) as a second base option.

Still, the manager said that the Red Sox continue to work on the position. In an interview with MLB Network Radio, general manager Brian O’Halloran said that the team is open to “[adding] infield depth, whether it’s a pure second baseman [or] someone who plays all over,” a reflection of a free agent market that is deep in options.


The recent signing of Hunter Renfroe gives the Red Sox a righthanded power-hitting option to complement Alex Verdugo and Andrew Benintendi, but likely does not mark the team’s last outfield addition.

In many ways, Renfroe represents the replacement for the role occupied by Kevin Pillar last year. With Jackie Bradley Jr. a free agent, the Sox still need to add to their outfield equation, whether by re-signing Bradley or another outfielder.

“The door is definitely not closed on adding to the mix,” said O’Halloran. “That could certainly be a center fielder, a more sort of traditional center fielder that has experience — a guy like Jackie Bradley. We’ve said Jackie remains on our radar. Definitely nothing is foreclosed there.”


At the same time, the Sox hope that they can restore Benintendi to his past status as one of the best pure hitters in baseball after he hit just .103/.314/.128 with an alarming 32.7 percent strikeout rate last season. Two years ago at the Winter Meetings, Cora announced his plan to have Benintendi bat leadoff in 2019, a reflection of his potential all-around impact. This winter, Cora spoke simply of the hope to get Benintendi back to his prior approach.

A healthy Andrew Benintendi could provide a boost for Boston again.
A healthy Andrew Benintendi could provide a boost for Boston again.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“We need him to get back to stay level in the strike zone, drive the ball all over the field, run around, and be a complete player,” said Cora. “I don’t want him to be one-dimensional.”

Along the same lines, Cora spoke hopefully about reestablishing J.D. Martinez (.213/.291/.389 last season) as an offensive force, suggesting that the 33-year-old has been working steadily to regain his swing after a season in which he was “a different hitter.”

“I’m not a gambling man,” said Cora, “but I’ll bet you a dollar that J.D. will have a better season.”

Even so, that guarded view underscores that there is uncertainty surrounding what kind of production the Red Sox can expect from the veteran — much as there is uncertainty about several other parts of the roster.


Roughly halfway through the offseason, the Red Sox remain a team in search of puzzle pieces, a contrast to recent winters when Cora was simply arranging them by this point.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.