In a Red Sox Town Hall event with season ticket holders that aired live on NESN on Thursday, team president/CEO Sam Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and manager Alex Cora expressed excitement for the upcoming season while sharing insight on several issues.
Here are the highlights:
Fans at Fenway
In what would be an exciting development, Kennedy expressed hope that some capacity of fans will be allowed at Fenway Park beginning with Opening Day, which is scheduled for April 1 against the Orioles.
“Well, we’d love to host fans if the health and safety experts up here and our government officials say it's okay,” said Kennedy. “We have a plan in place to host fans in a socially distanced environment, with all sorts of requirements for masks and hand sanitizing and things like that, and we've seen it around the country work successfully at different venues.
“We will be in touch with the state as soon as things calm down a little bit with respect to getting the vaccination process rolled out, and then we will be in touch shortly thereafter with our season ticket holders. It is our sincere hope to have fans back at Fenway as early as Opening Day. We're cautiously optimistic. But again, that is not our decision. That decision must be made by medical community health experts.”
The good news regarding ace Chris Sale is that his left elbow continues to get stronger as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. However, he did have a setback with his neck. The Red Sox haven’t set a timetable for Sale’s return. Before the neck issue arose, June or July seemed to be a logical estimate for when he could come back.
“Big picture, Chris’ rehab from the Tommy John's going great. He did have a little setback with his neck,” said Bloom. “It’s actually unrelated to Tommy John rehab, but he had some stiffness in his neck. ... We don’t expect this to be a long-term concern, but we had to back off of his throwing just to make sure we’re taking care of his arm. He’s going to get treatment going forward to make sure it doesn’t recur. That’s just really more of a calendar thing. It set us back in terms of time, but his arm has done great.”
Unlike last year, when the Red Sox never even sniffed contention and had trouble finding enough pitchers to get through each turn in the rotation, the club expects to be competitive in 2021. Though it is probably a reach to put the Red Sox in the championship conversation, Bloom and Cora both think the club can be in the mix for a playoff spot and that the organization is trending in the right direction moving forward.
“We have a good baseball team. Good baseball teams win a lot of games,” said Cora. “We are versatile and athletic, and deeper than, actually, ’19. I do believe that, going into Spring Training, we have a lot of options. It's getting to a point that you start looking at lineups and different combinations and we got guys that can do different things in different spots in the lineup.
“It’s a better team, I think -- a team that is capable of competing to play in October. For all the talk about the division being strong and getting better, I do believe that our team is going to compete, we're going to be in a good position and hopefully, we have a good season.”
Why no glitzy signings?
Thus far, Bloom has passed on marquee players available in free agency and expressed his reasoning for that.
“Sometimes, there's consequences down the road with [big signings], so what you don't want to be is hamstrung when it really comes time to push the chips in because of some commitments you made earlier,” said Bloom.
Instead, Bloom focused on deepening his team.
This offseason, the Sox have added Hunter Renfroe and Enrique Hernández to the position-player mix while trading for quality righty reliever Adam Ottavino and signing power righty Garrett Richards for the rotation. Free-agent acquisition Matt Andriese offers experience in the rotation and the bullpen, and lefty Martín Pérez was re-signed for rotation depth.
“There's no reason that the talent that we have on this club can't compete, but we also know that just being competitive is not the end goal,” Bloom said. “The end goal for this organization should always be contending for a championship every single year and getting to that point where we feel like we are well equipped to do it. And that's not something that happens overnight.”
Could there be more moves in store?
In short, don’t rule it out.
“I would assume we've got to be near a record number of free agents still out there for this close to Spring Training,” said Bloom. “I mean, the baseball offseason, much to the chagrin of all of our spouses and partners and friends, has been taking longer and longer every year -- and this year, I think even more so, just because of all the effects and the uncertainty created from the pandemic.
“There's more unresolved business than usual this time of year, so sometimes that can create opportunity. If anything, I think the pace has only picked up from where it was in January, and we're making sure that we've got our finger on the pulse.”
Could JBJ be back?
Bloom continues to keep open the possibility of re-signing Jackie Bradley Jr., the star defender who is a free agent for the first time.
“We've stayed in touch the entire time,” said Bloom. “Obviously, getting to free agency and having the right for the first time in his adult life to pick his employer and do what he feels is best for his career and his family, that's really important.
“And, you know, we also obviously need to look at a lot of different things, too, but you know, we've stayed in touch with them all the time, we'd love to have him back, and it obviously has to make sense for us short and long term and has to make sense for him. Emotionally speaking, I hope it ends up making sense, but no idea yet when that will resolve. Obviously, we are approaching Spring Training, but there hasn't been a resolution yet.”
Cora has been able to keep close tabs on exciting outfield prospect Jarren Duran, who has been playing winter ball in Puerto Rico under the supervision of Red Sox coach Ramón Vázquez. Duran is ranked eighth among Sox prospects by MLB Pipeline.
“I’ll tell you one right now who's actually doing an outstanding job in winter ball and he's putting the show in the Caribbean Series is Jarren Duran,” said Cora. “This kid came down here to work with Ramón Vázquez and get his repetitions and, you know, he didn't have a great [winter ball] season, but all the feedback -- not only from Ramon’s coaching staff, but coaching staffs around the league -- is his work ethic.”
Duran could well be the center fielder of the future in Boston.
“Athleticism, the way he approaches the game, it’s awesome to hear,” said Cora. “It’s a testament to player development, the way we do things. Now, in the Caribbean Series, he’s hitting the ball out of the ballpark. I’m very excited to see Jarren in the upcoming years and see how he can help us win some ballgames.”
Pedroia day at Fenway?
One season ticket holder asked if there will be a Dustin Pedroia Day at Fenway in 2021. The star second baseman retired earlier this week after being grounded by injuries for the last three seasons.
“We will absolutely appropriately celebrate Pedey,” said Kennedy. “When we do it, we have to have a packed house, or at least some fans back because he deserves that.”