Earlier this offseason, the Red Sox re-committed to Alex Cora as their manager for 2021 and beyond. In doing so, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom began work on what should be an active second winter on the job, during which the Red Sox are expected to add through free agency with an eye toward improving on their last-place finish in the American League East in 2020.
The roster Cora oversees already looks significantly different than the one Boston finished last season with; by Spring Training, the expectation is it could change dramatically.
On Thursday, Cora took questions for the first time since his introductory press conference in November. Here are some details of what he discussed:
Topic: Sale, E-Rod rehab
The skinny: The complexion of the Red Sox's rotation rests largely on rehabbing lefties Chris Sale, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March, and Eduardo Rodriguez, who missed 2020 with myocarditis after contracting COVID-19. Cora confirmed Thursday that Rodriguez has resumed throwing and should be ready for '21, while Sale hasn’t experienced any setbacks in his rehab.
Cora: “Eddie and Chris are progressing. I know people saw Rodriguez throwing off the mound yesterday in Florida, which is a good sign. For me personally, I’m happy he’s been able to go through his workouts as a regular person. What he went through this summer is not a joking matter. It was a very serious situation, and we’re glad he’s working out.
“Sale is the same way in Fort Myers. I don’t want to put a timetable. Our medical staff doesn’t want to put a timetable, and neither does our front office. But we’re happy he’s progressing the right way.”
Topic: Possibility of a six-man rotation
The skinny: Some teams are already committing to six-man rotations for 2021, with an eye toward combatting workload issues brought about by the shortened '20 season. The Red Sox have three healthy starters under contract (counting Rodriguez); their top returning starter, Nathan Eovaldi, has a long history of arm trouble. All told, nobody on staff threw more than 48 1/3 innings last season.
Cora: “We haven’t had that certain conversation. But what leads to the question, we’ve already had those conversations … we’ve been talking about how we’re going to manage what we have. I believe every organization at this level is having those conversations. How are they going to jump from what they had last year to what we need this year? It’s worrisome, because we need to take care of the health of these guys, but at the same time, we need to put it in balance. How much can we push them for us to be successful?”
Topic: Rotation depth
The skinny: The need for additional arms is glaring, both in the rotation and bullpen. Red Sox starters had a 5.34 ERA in 2020, 13th among 15 AL clubs. They will certainly look to improve that group through free agency, especially with Eovaldi the only starter truly penciled into the rotation for Opening Day at this point.
Cora: “Those conversations are going on and on -- not on and off. On and on. [The front office] has been relentless exploring the market. If you hear a rumor the Red Sox are in on someone, yeah, we’re doing our homework. We’re trying to get better. We have to be patient. If you look at the market: How many starters have signed? Not too many. There are a lot of guys out there that can help us.”
Topic: Hunter Renfroe
The skinny: The Red Sox made their first foray into the free-agent market on Monday by signing power-hitting outfielder Renfroe to a one-year, $3.1 million deal. Renfroe, who turns 29 in January, is coming off a down season during which he hit .156 with eight homers and a .645 OPS for the Rays. Prior to that, Renfroe averaged 28 homers per year from ’17-’19 with the Padres. He profiles as Boston's starter in right field at this juncture.
Cora: “Everybody talks about his upside offensively. Defensively, he’s been really solid the last two years. I do believe he can help us in the outfield. Of course we like the power. I think Chaim mentioned something about playing pepper with the Mass Pike. That can be the case. At the same time, he can hit the ball out of the ballpark to any place at Fenway, any place in our division, and any stadium. I am looking forward to working with him.”
The skinny: The Red Sox have already taken strides to reshape a relief corps that finished with a 5.79 ERA in 2020, 14th in the AL. The biggest question might be in the back end, whether Matt Barnes fits better in a fireman or closer-type role.
Cora: “Watching what happened toward the end of the season, it seems like Matt threw the ball well. I don’t want to get into roles right now, but he’s a guy we should consider. We should talk about him as a closer candidate. It’s not fair for anybody to say, “this guy is going to be this guy” at this point, but Matt did an outstanding job last year. … If the season started tomorrow and we had the lead in the ninth inning and we haven’t used Matt in the seventh or eighth, I’m flipping him the ball. The season doesn’t start tomorrow. But Matt Barnes has been one of the best relievers in the big leagues the last few years, and I have total trust in him that he can do the job.”