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Peter Abraham | on baseball

Red Sox, cautious about Chris Sale’s return, sort through pitching options. The verdict? Expect the roster to be in flux

The Red Sox recently added Martin Perez (above) and Matt Andriese to their cast of pitching options.
The Red Sox recently added Martin Perez (above) and Matt Andriese to their cast of pitching options.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

We’re a few weeks away from the one-year anniversary of the Red Sox trading Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, a shameful day in team history.

The Dodgers went on to win the World Series and the Sox finished in last place. Even the determinedly tanking Baltimore Orioles were better.

In the months since, the Sox have signed long reliever Matt Andriese, platoon outfielder Hunter Renfroe, and brought back lefthander Martin Perez. Total cost: $10.2 million.

It’s not very inspiring. The Sox are easy targets for criticism, especially without the Patriots playing into January to provide some cover. The knocks are coming from all directions.

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It’s been a long time, since the final months of the 2012 season, that the Sox have seemed so inconsequential.

But here’s the thing: Pitchers and catchers aren’t scheduled to report to spring training until Feb. 15 and Opening Day is April 1. Chaim Bloom has ample time to improve the roster.

There’s also plenty of opportunity to do that. Starting pitchers J.A. Happ, Jake Odorizzi, Jose Quintana, James Paxton, Garrett Richards, and Taijuan Walker remain free agents.

If you really want to get creative, so do Rick Porcello and Masahiro Tanaka. Trevor Bauer is out there, too, but that’s not happening.

The Sox could improve their bullpen with Alex Colome or Kirby Yates. They also need a second baseman and a center fielder.

Bloom could spend roughly $25 million on upgrades without going over the luxury tax threshold. The longer he waits, the more the prices will come down as spring training approaches and free agents become more willing to make a deal.

Once February arrives, established big leaguers will be scrambling for landing spots. The Sox still expect to make additions, multiple team sources said.

What is Chaim Bloom's next move?
What is Chaim Bloom's next move?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

So if you’re aggravated by the slow pace of the offseason, give it some time. What the roster looks like in April and beyond is what matters, not January. A better question is, to what degree should the Sox invest in 2021 in the first place?

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Bloom has made it clear that the Sox will be cautious with the return of Chris Sale from Tommy John surgery. Typically, it takes 12-15 months to recover, which for Sale would be between March 30-June 30.

But Bloom predicted a “midsummer” return for Sale last month and hinted it might be longer. Sale said at the time of his surgery that he would come back as soon as possible.

But the Sox seem intent on protecting the lefthander from himself and making sure he is fully healthy for 2022-24, the final three years of what so far has been a disastrous five-year extension. It would be a surprise to see Sale pitch every five days once he comes back.

The Sox also have no idea what to expect from Eduardo Rodriguez, who missed all of last season with a heart issue related to his bout with COVID-19.

Rodriguez feels fine now and is back on the mound preparing for the season. But his last game was Sept. 29, 2019. To what degree his arm will be affected by such a long layoff isn’t certain.

What's a reasonable level of expectation for Eduardo Rodriguez in 2021?
What's a reasonable level of expectation for Eduardo Rodriguez in 2021?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta pitched well in the final days of last season. But Houck threw 17 innings and Pivetta 10. At best, they’re good candidates for the rotation.

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The Sox like Andriese as a starter but he hasn’t been part of a rotation for more than a spot start or two since 2017.

It’s also uncertain what to expect from prospects like Bryan Mata and Connor Seabold given they were limited to pitching in what amounted to controlled scrimmages last season.

Outside of Perez and Nate Eovaldi, the rotation is uncertain and Eovaldi has landed on the injured list at least once for five consecutive seasons.

No matter whom they add, the Sox are likely to get through the season with a rotating cast of starters and occasional openers. Expect the roster to be in a constant state of flux.

When asked, Bloom acknowledges the need to improve before the season starts. But he always adds that the Sox have to keep an eye on the future and build up their talent base. They may not call it a rebuild, but that’s what it is.

The coming season shouldn’t be another last-place disaster. But it’s becoming clear this is going to take a while. The wait continues.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.