Five questions for the Red Sox heading into spring training
1. For openers, who’s the closer? This will be the big story in camp, identifying a replacement for free agent Craig Kimbrel. Unless the Sox add to what is already the highest payroll in the game, Kimbrel will not return. That leaves Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier as the most prominent candidates to pitch the ninth inning. Barnes has two career saves, Brasier none.
2. How does Chris Sale’s shoulder feel? Sale pitched only 17 innings in the final two months of the regular season because of a shoulder injury, and in the postseason he got through five innings once in three starts. Sale says he’s fine, but until he gets in a game it will be a concern. That Sale and the Sox have been evasive about what kind of injury he had is a red flag.
3. Will there be a World Series hangover cure? No team has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees won three titles in a row from 1998-2000. How manager Alex Cora solves that puzzle will start in spring training. The Red Sox’ record in Florida doesn’t matter but preparing with some sense of purpose does.
4. When will the bullpen be filled? The Sox also have to replace Joe Kelly, who led the team with 73 relief appearances last season before signing with the Dodgers. The Sox, oddly, have not invested in their bullpen other than sign an assortment of injury cases and castoffs to minor league deals. The bullpen is a glaring weakness of an otherwise strong team.
5. Who’s the second choice at second base? The Sox believe Dustin Pedroia can return from knee surgery and play 115 or so games. But until he shows he can play two days in a row in spring training, it’s a great unknown. If Pedroia isn’t ready, Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin or Eduardo Nunez will get the job.