SPRINGFIELD — Consider the challenges that await manager Alex Cora when the Red Sox open spring training next month.
With Trevor Story recovering from elbow surgery, Rafael Devers, Kiké Hernández, and Alex Verdugo are the only position players returning who started at least half the games last season.
Three pitchers expected to play significant roles — Tanner Houck, Chris Sale, and Garrett Whitlock — are coming off surgery.
Nick Pivetta is the only pitcher returning who made 15 or more starts in 2022.
Eight players on the 40-man roster are new to the organization, among them the expected closer (Kenley Jansen), center fielder (Adam Duvall), left fielder (Masataka Yoshida), and designated hitter (Justin Turner).
The Sox are a patchwork team with low expectations, and the fan base is angry.
Principal owner John Henry and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom were loudly booed on Friday night at the team’s Winter Weekend event at the Mass Mutual Center when they took questions from the crowd.
Both had to pause their answers because of the stormy reaction from fans who purchased tickets and turned out on a cold night for a town hall event that is designed to be a pep rally.
“I know it’s been difficult the last 12 months. But we’re going to bounce back,” Cora told the fans as the event ended.
For that to happen it has to start when the team assembles in Florida, and it won’t be easy.
Devers, Jansen, Hernández, Pivetta, Verdugo, and Yoshida are among the players who could miss up to three weeks of camp playing for their respective national teams in the World Baseball Classic.
The Sox will have their group together for roughly 10 Grapefruit League games before the WBC players scatter.
The WBC will affect every team to some degree. But for the Sox, it will be particularly nettlesome given all their roster changes since the end of last season.
The team needs new leaders after the departure of Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nate Eovaldi, and other veterans. That will be harder to achieve without having everybody together.
Cora, who was Puerto Rico’s general manager for the 2017 WBC, supports the tournament. But the timing isn’t great for the Sox.
“It’s a tricky situation,” he said.
Even without all the roster changes and the WBC, this would be an unusual spring training because of the new rules being instituted.
Pitchers will have 15 seconds to be into their delivery with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. Hitters must be in the box and “alert” to a pitch with eight seconds remaining or a strike could be called.
Another new rule will mandate teams have four players on the infield with two on either side of second base. Infielders also cannot switch sides between pitches.
Pitchers will be limited to stepping off the rubber twice per plate appearance unless the runner advances.
But these rules will not be used in the WBC.
“We’ll have to work hard early on in camp to simulate the [new] rules,” Cora said. “Put the clocks all over the place and have live BP with a pitch clock. Hopefully we can make the adjustment right away and be ready for the season.
“It’s going to be a challenge for everybody.”
The Sox had an in-person organizational meeting last week and Cora spent time with the coaches mapping out spring training.
Bloom said the research and development staff have studied the new rules to determine how best to take advantage of them. The feeling is that it should open up the running game.
The Sox have a roster that, in theory, could contend for a playoff berth. But it would require bounce-back seasons from players like Sale and career years from others. There is little margin for error and a better chance they finish fourth or fifth.
“I feel good about the group. It’s a veteran group that is eager to get ready,” Cora said.
That’s a message that is sure to be repeated in the coming weeks. The fans do not feel the same way based on Friday night. They see a team going in the wrong direction.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.