SAN DIEGO — At the end of the season, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said the club would be visiting with certain players this offseason. One of those players was outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
Benintendi hit .266 in 2019 with just 13 homers and a .774 OPS, all of which were career lows. Benintendi struck out a career-high 140 times. During the club’s series against the Phillies in September, Cora talked at length on Benintendi, adding that 2019 couldn’t be a part of Benintendi’s game moving forward.
Monday, on the first day of the Winter Meetings, Cora mentioned that hitting coach Tim Hyers and newly hired assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse had indeed visited with Benintendi.
“He’s in a better place,” Cora said.
But one note from Cora certainly stood out: Benintendi’s body wasn’t where it needed to be last season, which also translated to some of his defensive woes in the outfield.
“It’s not that he was out of shape, his body was different,” Cora said. “He was stronger. Some of his moves were slower than previous years. I don’t know if he was trying to hit home runs or he felt like he lost some weight in the previous season that he needed to show up heavier or stronger. Obviously, it didn’t work out. He’s going back to being the athlete that we like to see.”
Benintendi certainly appeared to be a step too slow in 2019. His UZR dropped down from 3.8 to 1.7 and, on numerous occasions, he had difficulty on fly balls. The swing itself was slow and long.
“If you guys think that that’s the real Benny striking out  times, I don’t see it,” Cora said. “He’s a better hitter than that, and hopefully, he can put the ball in play a little bit more and he can hit for average and be the athletic player we saw a few years ago.”
Beltre on call
After Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers made a pivotal error in a game against the White Sox in May that led to a loss, Mitch Moreland made a phone call to his former teammate Adrian Beltre, who reached out to Devers.
The error — and advice from the Beltre — helped improve Devers’s defense for the remainder of the season.
“Adrian talked to Rafy, and from there on, the communication was on an every-other-week basis,” Cora said. “There’s a few things that Adrian told him to do in the offseason and what he should do in spring training, and looking forward for him to work that way and see where it takes him.”
The Betts watch
Despite the unknown nature of Mookie Betts’s long-term place with the team, Cora and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom remain in contact with the 2018 AL MVP.
For Cora, nothing has changed.
“It’s the same relationship,” Cora said. “One thing for sure, in this process, you’re going to release players, guys are going to get called up, guys are going to get demoted, guys are going to get traded, but in the end, the relationship is still there. He’s a guy that we like. We believe in him, and we know how much he can impact the game of baseball.”
Bloom said Betts was one of the first people he reached out to after joining the Sox.
“He’s one of the number of guys — and his representation — we keep in touch with consistently,” Bloom said. “It’s my first offseason with him, but this offseason has been no different in that regard.”
After going to the injured list with elbow inflamation in August, Chris Sale is said to be progressing.
“He’s doing great,” Bloom said. “He’s starting a throwing program. Everything is proceeding as hoped.”
The hope is that he’s ready for spring training.
David Price had surgery on his wrist to remove a cyst toward the end of the season. He threw the other day and, like Sale, is making progress.
“He feels a little bit looser with the wrist,” Cora said. “The feel of the ball is different, and there haven’t been setbacks. As of now, everything is trending the right way. The goal is for him to be ready for the opening series.”
Cora did not offer a comment on the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal from 2017 that’s stolen most of the baseball headlines this offseason for the wrong reasons. Cora, who was an Astros bench coach at the time, said he wouldn’t comment while the investigation is ongoing.
The Sox’ mission — the team says it’s a “goal” not a “mandate” — to get below the luxury tax is still the same, although it might take some time for some moves to take shape.
With Bloom and Brian O’Halloran spearheading the operation, it could be a quiet week for the Sox as they wait for the market to take form.
“We haven’t had any real major transactions yet,” O’Halloran said. “It’s been more conversations and strategy and looking at all available paths and talking to other clubs. It’s been a collaborative process amongst us talking about different ways to do [getting under the luxury-tax threshold] and keeping open all those paths.”
Meanwhile, the Sox announced contract extensions for Raquel Ferreira, Zack Scott, and Eddie Romero. All three will hold the title of executive vice president/assistant general manager.
Daniel Nava is in San Diego meeting with teams. The 36-year-old former Red Sox outfielder — part of the 2013 World Series team — spent last season in independent ball and is now hoping to find a minor league deal that would afford him another crack at a major league roster. Nava said that he would love another shot with the Red Sox, who plucked him out of indy ball in 2008 . . . The Red Sox are one of many teams to express interest in infielder Travis Shaw. The former Red Sox third baseman became a free agent when he was non-tendered by the Brewers last week. The team has also discussed catcher Luke Maile, who has spent parts of the last five years in the big leagues, including two with Bloom in Tampa Bay.