The Red Sox have started to assemble at their spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla. Eduardo Rodriguez was among those who arrived on Monday, and the first workout for pitchers and catchers will be Thursday.
In normal times, the Globe would have already written a few stories from JetBlue Park, with accompanying photos of players lugging their equipment bags in from the parking lot, but those hopeful stories will have to wait. Major League Baseball and the Players Association decided to hold reporters out of spring training sites until next week as part of their pandemic protocols.
This will be a spring training defined by new rules designed to keep the players and coaches far apart but still close enough to prepare for the season.
That’s not ideal for the Red Sox. Twenty of their current 40-man roster are new to the organization the last two seasons, and have not played for manager Alex Cora. That number will grow once two recent signees — utility man Marwin Gonzalez and righthanded reliever Hirokazu Sawamura — are added.
Spring training would usually be a perfect time and place to bond and set expectations for the coming season, but that won’t be possible to the extent it usually would be given the guidelines.
The usual team golf outings and dinners won’t be allowed. The annual casino night in the tent outside the stadium has been canceled.
This is one time that long bus rides across Florida and a full schedule of nine-inning games would actually help the Sox. But nearly all of the games this season will be in Fort Myers or an hour up I-75 North. And games can be called after five innings if both managers are satisfied their pitchers got enough work.
The goal this year will be to come in, do your work, and go home. No lingering.
This is an important time for Cora to adjust, too. He was essentially fired by the Red Sox last year for his role in Houston’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal, then re-hired in October. He needs time to adapt to working under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom in what is a very different organization than the one he first joined.
Cora and former Sox baseball boss Dave Dombrowski had an easy relationship. It was Dombrowski who gave Cora his first chance to manage, and they worked well together for two seasons in a traditional setup.
The Red Sox were championship-driven, no qualifiers necessary. Every move was made with the idea of getting to the World Series.
Under Bloom, the Sox are making decisions with the parallel goals of competing now and preparing for the future. CEO Sam Kennedy has acknowledged the team is not all-in as far as this season.
The idea now is to get to the World Series and be set up to win the pennant again the following season. But that won’t be for a few years. Or at least that’s the plan.
Cora has a two-year contract, and it’s not in his baseball DNA to concede any race before it starts. How that meshes with Bloom’s long-term goals will be a season-long story, as will trying to win back some of the fans who didn’t necessarily want him back given his actions in Houston.
It’s also an uncertain time for the players. Outside of Xander Bogaerts, who has no-trade rights, no Red Sox player can be sure he won’t be dealt. If Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi can go, anybody can.
Bloom sees his position, and rightfully so, as being always on the hunt for deals that make sense. Cora’s job will be to create a clubhouse atmosphere that puts that worry in the background.
Kevin Cash has made it work with the Tampa Bay Rays, who played last season with a remarkable sense of purpose. But it’s harder to do with established, better-paid players.
The Sox also need to start convincing fans that there is more to the future than a constant churn of players. Spring training would ideally be a time for people to get to better know Franchy Cordero, Kiké Hernández, Garrett Richards, Hunter Renfroe, and other newcomers.
That won’t be easy with the protocols, but it would be worth the effort to get them in front of cameras and with reporters.
For this particular Red Sox team, there’s a lot of work to be done to convince everybody, themselves included, that the coming season will be a worthwhile one.