One by one, the Boston Red Sox have arrived at spring training spouting the same, stubborn message.
From Eduardo Rodriguez — “Don’t sleep on us” — to Chris Sale’s — “We plan on going and making some noise” — there is optimism at the team’s complex despite the 24-36 record in the pandemic-shortened season that left them last in the AL East.
“2020 did not go the way anybody wanted,” said Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, who in his first year traded 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, hired and fired a manager, and dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I don’t want the stain of last year to have people look past the talent that we have,” Bloom said in a Zoom call with reporters on Sunday. “This is a time for hope, for renewal. ... I know that we have just been through a long, cold winter. But it’s important for us to take the time to take a breath, feel lucky that we get to do this and see all the possibilities.”
Three days of pitcher and catcher workouts can’t erase everything that went wrong in 2020. But Bloom said that — so far — everything has gone well this year, especially in comparison to last spring.
“The more uneventful, the better,” he said.
After playing only 60 games last year, preparing for a full season again has introduced uncertainty to spring training. Among the questions: How best to prepare pitchers for a full load a year after they made no more than a dozen starts and threw less than 65 innings.
“Anybody who thinks they can tell you what last year means ... I don’t buy it. We’re all just using the best information we have, using all the information we have,” Bloom said. “There’s going to be some art to this, it’s not just science.”
Rodriguez, who missed all of 2020 due to a heart problem that stemmed from his coronavirus infection, has already thrown one bullpen session and is a “full go” to proceed. Sale's recovery from Tommy John surgery is on schedule, presumably for a midseason return.
The Red Sox are also optimistic that a more normal season will allow third baseman Rafael Devers to snap out of the defensive struggles that had him leading the majors with 14 errors in 57 games. And manager Alex Cora is betting —$5, in fact — that three-time All-Star J.D. Martinez will bounce back from the worst season of his career, when he batted just .213.
“J.D. got mad at me because I only bet one dollar a few months ago that he’s going to have a better season,” Cora told reporters. “I’ll raise the bet to five dollars that he’ll have a better season.”
After finishing 16 games behind Tampa Bay in the 60-game season — and nine in back of the wildcard Yankees — the Red Sox would need everything to go right to make a run at the playoffs. Bloom said that a World Series title remains the goal, but allowed that the season could be a success if he sees progress toward building a long-term contender.
“I would love to get to the end of this year and be able to look and see that next core that is going to be the center of a sustainable championship contender, and to see that core taking shape,” he said.
In other news on Sunday:
—Rodriguez, who tied for the AL lead with 34 starts in 2019, remains on schedule to resume his role as one of the most reliable members of the Red Sox rotation.
“We’ve got to make sure we take care of him,” Bloom said. “He’s coming off something nobody has really experienced, so we’ve got to be mindful of that.”
—Sale is hard at work on his recovery from ligament replacement surgery.
“One of the greatest sights of spring training so far has been watching Chris Sale throw a baseball. We’ve been waiting to do that for a long time,” Bloom said, adding that the team will be cautious. “We’ve got to do it the right way with him.”
—Cora, who was brought back after serving a one-year suspension for his role role in the Astros cheating scandal, has impressed Bloom with his people skills. Bloom joined the team after the 2019 season, Cora's last in the dugout in his first stint as manager.
“He has just a charisma about him where people feel lifted up by being around him,” Bloom said. “He can bring the best out of people. That’s what we’re looking for in a manager.”
—The team hasn't ruled out re-signing center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who remains a free agent. Bradley batted .239 in eight seasons — though it was up to .283 in 2020 — but provided spectacular defense in center field.
“We love Jackie and we’ve stayed in touch with him throughout the winter,” Bloom said. “We’re going to continue to do that until it resolves."
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