Read the Globe’s Red Sox season preview here
That the Red Sox finished spring training 14-14-4 was perfect. That record captures the outlook most fans have headed into Opening Day Thursday afternoon at Fenway.
There are equal parts optimism and pessimism.
Some look at the roster and how it performed in Florida and see a more explosive lineup with Masataka Yoshida, Justin Turner, and Adam Duvall now part of the mix.
Others can rightfully question the pitching staff. Starting the season with Corey Kluber and Chris Sale pitching the first two games would have been great in 2017 when they finished first and second in the Cy Young voting.
But this is 2023, and it’s been five years since either of them received a vote.
Is there another legitimate starter on the staff? Brayan Bello and Garrett Whitlock are the leading candidates but will open the season on the injured list.
The bullpen has to be considered a question mark, too, given how little Kenley Jansen pitched in camp — only 5⅔ innings against other teams. He put nine men on base and five scored.
By signing Kluber, Jansen, Richard Bleier, Duvall, Chris Martin, and Turner, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom gave the Sox a veneer of respectability.
That group has four World Series rings, nine All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, and two Cy Young awards.
Toss in Sale, Kiké Hernández, and James Paxton (who is on the injured list), and the Sox have nine veteran players with an average of 10.2 years of major league experience and an average age of 34.7.
None are signed beyond 2024.
That group will determine the outcome of the coming season, one way or the other.
Manager Alex Cora believes it will be for the better. He sees the veterans, particularly the newcomers, coming in and wiping away the stain of finishing in last place in 2022.
“Look at what they’ve accomplished,” Cora said. “They don’t care what happened last year. They’re here to win.”
Most have something to prove, too. Turner was dumped by the Dodgers in favor of J.D. Martinez. The Braves weren’t all that interested in keeping Duvall or Jansen.
Sale and Paxton have combined for just 17 starts over the last three seasons.
Hernández, a utility player all his career, wants to show the industry he can play shortstop.
“I can’t speak for anybody else, but there is a lot I need to show people this season,” Sale said. “I get that. They signed me to a contract [in 2019] and I haven’t done my part.”
There’s a lot there for Cora to mine as motivation.
Alternatively, that same group could be looking at their phones come July to see if they’re the subject of trade rumors if the Sox aren’t in contention.
Or maybe the Sox were just a good opportunity to pump up their bank accounts before retirement.
It’s easy to see what the Sox have planned: shoot for contention with this patchwork bunch and leave plenty of opportunity for prospects like Marcelo Mayer, Ceddanne Rafaela, Bryan Mata, Nick Yorke, Chris Murphy, and others.
In time, the core of the Sox will be Bello, Whitlock, Yoshida, Triston Casas, and Rafael Devers as the young talent filters in. But they need help in the interim.
“I feel like we’re going in the right direction,” Devers said. “I still think I am young, but I see players younger than me and they have talent. They’re going to be here soon.”
When Devers agreed to a 10-year, $313.5 million extension in January, his agents wisely took advantage of a team that needed some good news to peddle to a fan base grown disgruntled by a parade of star players leaving town.
But Devers also took on some risk that the Sox will build around him and get back to the postseason. He just as easily could have waited to become a free agent to cash in.
“He believes in what we’re doing,” Cora said.
Some of you share that belief and more of you probably don’t. But after seeming to try and go in all directions at once last year, at least the Sox have a road map.
The first stop is Thursday afternoon against the Orioles. Let’s see where this goes.
Read more from our Red Sox season preview
- Chaim Bloom is transforming the Red Sox. What does the future hold?
- ‘This group knows what we can do but the world doesn’t:’ Whether it’s confidence or cockiness, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has it
- The ultra-competitive Rafael Devers is the cornerstone of the Red Sox — now and for the foreseeable future
- Dan Shaughnessy: Regardless of Red Sox expectations, this is a day to celebrate the return of baseball
- Dueling columns | Alex Speier: Why projection systems don’t like the 2023 Red Sox
- Dueling columns | Peter Abraham: For an unpredictable Red Sox team, let’s call it 86 wins and in contention for a playoff spot
- Meet the 2023 Red Sox Opening Day roster
- MLB season predictions: Will the Red Sox make the playoffs? Our staff doesn’t think so.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.