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Thoughts on five issues the Red Sox need to address as Winter Meetings get underway

Was Xander Bogaerts waving goodbye to Red Sox fans after the final game of last season?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The last time the Red Sox were in San Diego for Winter Meetings was 2019, and a large cloud hung over the organization. The Sox were in the midst of a transition. It was chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom’s first meetings as the Sox’ leader. The team’s future was unclear. Rumors swirled surrounding Mookie Betts, then the team’s cornerstone franchise player. Would he stay or would the Sox trade him, knowing he was in his last season before becoming a free agent? Questions also began to simmer regarding manager Alex Cora, who was implicated in the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal as their bench coach.

Betts was ultimately traded before spring training. Cora was eventually suspended. The Betts trade signaled a seismic shift in the organization. The Cora one-year punishment signaled dysfunction.

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The Sox have returned to San Diego for this year’s Winter Meetings. Cora returns, too, having reclaimed his role as manager two years ago. But another seismic shift, perhaps, is on the horizon with Xander Bogaerts’s future with the club hanging in the balance.

The Red Sox have work to do on the Bogaerts front and overall. Here are some thoughts heading into this week.

Bogaerts:

At the end of the season, the Red Sox and Bloom made it clear that their first priority was Bogaerts. Bogaerts reportedly met with ownership just before the team’s forgettable 2022 campaign came to a close. There was optimism that Bogaerts would be back in a Red Sox uniform. But according to new reports, one of which revealed the Red Sox have not made Bogaerts a competitive offer, his return is not as clear as it may have seemed in October.

This could be a standard part of negotiations. Bogaerts’s agent, Scott Boras, isn’t known to take discounts — especially when you take into consideration Bogaerts already gifted the Red Sox a discount in 2019 when he agreed to a six-year, $120 million extension. The opt-out in that deal allows Bogaerts to get his fair market value. It also allows Boras to play his typical hardball.

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Or, this could be Bloom and the Sox unwilling to go to great lengths to keep their shortstop. One thing is certain: it’s early in free agency. But Bogaerts will be a huge topic of discussion during the Winter Meetings.

Catcher:

Bloom said he wants to attack the catching market, which is no surprise.

After Bloom traded longtime catcher Christian Vázquez to the Astros and then designated Kevin Plawecki for assignment at the end of the season, the Sox finished the year with Reese McGuire and Connor Wong.

The two are the only catchers on the 40-man roster. While McGuire provides a lefthanded bat and seemed to have found his space with the Red Sox, his profile screams more backup than starter. And even though Wong showed the ability to handle a pitching staff and glimpses of pop in the bat, he’s a backup, too, or even a fringe big-leaguer.

Could Mike Zunino be a fit at Fenway?Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Red Sox could bring back Vázquez, who is a free agent and would entertain a return. Or they could go after free agent Mike Zunino, who spent the last four seasons with the Rays and overlapped with Bloom in 2019.

Arguably the most coveted catcher, the Athletics’ Sean Murphy, is not a free agent but has three more years of team control. The A’s, with their low-budget spending, made it clear they’re trying to trade their Gold Glove catcher. A recent report by MLB.com stated that the A’s are close to trading Murphy, with the Braves the frontrunner.

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Starting pitching:

The Sox have a lot of question marks when it comes to their starters. Nate Eovaldi and Michael Wacha are free agents, leaving Chris Sale, Brayan Bello, James Paxton, Nick Pivetta, and Garrett Whitlock on the roster.

Sale and Paxton are huge health uncertainties. While Bello is young, but promising, Pivetta is a fringe starter, at best, and Whitlock might be more valuable in his typical late-inning bullpen role.

The Red Sox could reunite with Eovaldi, but his health remains an issue. In short, the Sox need a reliable front-end starter, and there aren’t many available, with Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon leading the way with Chris Bassitt.

Relievers:

The Sox recently agreed to terms with Chris Martin and Joely Rodriguez, emphasizing the team’s focus on improving the bullpen. Martin can help in late, crucial innings, an area they Sox struggled in last year. Rodriguez, a lefthander, typically isn’t a high-leverage guy, but can be utilized in big moments depending on the matchup.

But the Sox need to do more.

What sort of role will Tanner Houck have in 2023?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Tanner Houck’s stuff is electric at the end of a game, and John Schreiber, though he faded toward the end of last season after being relied on so much, finished with a 2.22 ERA. Yet Whitlock’s shift to the rotation leaves a huge hole in the bullpen, one the Sox need to fix.

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First base:

Eric Hosmer and Triston Casas are both lefthanded hitting first basemen, which is a good problem to have. If Casas, still just 22, can produce at the big league level, the Red Sox can move on from Hosmer at some point next season. But Hosmer has a full no-trade clause, meaning he would have to approve a trade. Having both on the roster could waste a roster spot. How the team navigates that situation is intriguing.


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him @byJulianMack.