FORT MYERS, Fla. — The season doesn’t start for another 47 days and it already feels like the 2020 Red Sox have lost because of all that has happened since the calendar flipped over to a new year.
Manager Alex Cora, an almost seamless fit for the one of the toughest jobs in sports, stepped down by mutual agreement in January after Major League Baseball identified him as the organizer of a scheme to improperly steal signs while bench coach of the Houston Astros in 2017.
The Sox have yet to hire a new manager as they wait anxiously for baseball to conclude an investigation into allegations they broke rules by using live video to steal signs during the 2018 season.
Then ownership approved trading homegrown superstar Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers to fulfill its goal of dropping the payroll below the luxury-tax line. Lefthander David Price was added to the deal, saving even more money but depleting an already thin starting rotation.
Red Sox fans reacted with predictable anger as early-arriving players to spring training watched televisions in the clubhouse waiting to see what would happen next.
But righthanded reliever Matt Barnes offered a more measured and dispassionate look at the situation when asked his opinion.
“If you look around our clubhouse there’s still an awful lot of talent,” he said. “We can still achieve our goals.”
The latest projections based on cumulative wins over replacement have the Red Sox finishing with the fourth- or fifth-best record in the American League, a position that would give them a berth into the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
Even without Betts, the Sox will have a lineup featuring All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who finished fifth in the American League Most Valuable Player voting last season. Betts was eighth.
Another All-Star, J.D. Martinez, declined his option to become a free agent and remained with the Sox. The designated hitter has hit 79 home runs and driven in 235 runs over the last two seasons.
Third baseman Rafael Devers, only 23, led the majors with 359 total bases last season. Christian Vazquez had a .798 OPS last season, sixth among major league catchers with at least 400 plate appearances.
The Sox expect better production from left fielder Andrew Benintendi, a standout in 2018 who was at best average last season. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. also has plenty of incentive to produce as he enters his free agent walk year.
Outfielder Alex Verdugo, who will join the Sox once the trade with the Dodgers is finalized, gives the team another capable hitter.
“This team will score a lot of runs,” Bradley said. “We’re all confident of that.”
The Red Sox failed to make the playoffs last year because Price, Nate Eovaldi, and Chris Sale missed large chunks of the season with injuries. Based on observations of their early work at spring training, Eovaldi and Sale are now healthy.
Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, 32-11 with a 3.81 earned run average over the last two seasons, is the key to holding the rotation together.
The bullpen proved better than expected last season, and the nine relievers with the most appearances all return. Brandon Workman, who had 16 saves in 2019, should again be the closer.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, hired in October to bring a consistent approach to roster building, has scavenged the waiver wire and free agent market for an assortment of undervalued pitchers.
If that strategy works as well for the Red Sox as it did for Tampa Bay when Bloom worked there, the pitching staff could be better than expected.
For now, as in over the next few days, the Red Sox very badly need to get clear of the investigation, finalize the trade, and name a manager. That would restore order to what has been at least unusual if not unprecedented upheaval.
The season starts March 26 in Toronto. One way or another, the issues that seem hopeless now will have been addressed by then.
“We just need to get back to playing baseball,” Barnes said. “That’s what we’re here to do. This is still a good team. We want to play and see what we can do.”