Red Sox issues need improvement upon Alex Cora’s return

Five particular areas are of glaring concern

By Bill Koch
 |  @BillKoch25

BOSTON — Alex Cora will be reintroduced as Red Sox manager at a Tuesday afternoon virtual press conference. 

It won’t carry the same air of celebration that existed in November 2017. Some difficult questions are likely to be asked of Cora, team president and CEO Sam Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran. 

You can’t simply breeze back into the same job you lost in January in the wake of an electronic sign-stealing scandal. Boston will assume a certain level of public relations burden in exchange for a return to relevancy both in its own market and among Major League Baseball contenders. 

The real challenges in rebuilding this roster are ongoing, and they are many. Bloom has been tasked with constructing the next great Red Sox team, and it’s to be determined just how many pieces are already in the fold. What’s certain is last year’s 24-36 performance and basement finish in the American League East were both unacceptable. 

Where should Boston be targeting immediate improvement? Here are five significant areas ahead of Opening Day in 2021.  


Obvious, yes, but it has to top any list in terms of Red Sox weaknesses. Boston set a new franchise worst with a 5.58 earned run average in 2020. The top 11 teams in that category reached October, and two of them — the Dodgers (first) and Rays (third) — met in the World Series. 

Chris Sale (left elbow) won’t be ready for spring training, and Eduardo Rodriguez (myocarditis/COVID-19) isn’t certain to match his 2019 breakout. The Red Sox will need to capitalize on a depressed free agent market and perhaps make a creative trade or two while bolstering the staff.  

It’s also key for Cora and Bloom to reach an understanding regarding pitching usage. Boston rode reliable starters to its most recent championship in 2018. Bloom could favor the bullpenning principles patented by his former employers in Tampa Bay. 

Rafael Devers 

Upside. That’s why Rafael Devers receives so much scrutiny. 

His performance as a 22-year-old in 2019 was off the charts — .311/.361/.555, 54 doubles, 32 home runs, 359 total bases, 12th in the AL Most Valuable Player voting. Devers made a clear offseason commitment to his body and improved his work with the glove at third base. He looked like a future franchise cornerstone and perennial All-Star. 

Devers regressed in 2020. His slash line dipped across the board to .263/.310/.483, his conditioning upon arrival at summer camp appeared suspect, and his fielding percentage of .891 at third base was well below the league average of .959. Devers is still a young player, of course, but returning to that upward trajectory toward his prime — not flattening out, not going backwards — is critical. 

J.D. Martinez 

Is he finished? It’s disturbing — and, admittedly, a bit alarmist — that we would ask such a question. 

But J.D. Martinez opened the door thanks to a dismal 2020. His anemic .213/.291/.389 slash line added up to a .680 OPS, his worst since a 2013 season that earned him a release by the Astros. The Red Sox have no such luxury of moving on – Martinez opted into the final two years of his $110 million contract soon after the close of the World Series. 

Jim Rice was 33 during his last impactful season in Boston. He finished third in the AL MVP voting in 1986, totaling an .874 OPS thanks to 39 doubles and 20 home runs. Martinez will be the same age when Opening Day arrives and has previously displayed a higher ceiling as a slugger — those are both reasons for optimism. 

Andrew Benintendi 

It was more than a rib-cage injury spoiling Andrew Benintendi’s 2020 season. 

Granted, with more time, he could have found a way out of what is now a two-year decline. But that wasn’t afforded to him, so we evaluate based on the available evidence — .255/.341/.410, 41 doubles, 13 home runs, 157 strikeouts in his last 152 games. That’s down across the board from his 2016 debut through the last Red Sox championship — .282/.359/.447, 78 doubles, 38 home runs, 243 strikeouts in 333 games. 

Benintendi is one of few players who seemed to be adversely affected by one of Cora’s previous decisions. Shoehorning Benintendi into the leadoff spot ahead of Mookie Betts in 2019 appeared to unsettle him. The emergence of Alex Verdugo atop the lineup could allow Benintendi to rediscover his form under lesser pressure elsewhere. 

Second base 

Per Baseball Reference, here’s where Boston has finished in wins above average at second base since 2018 — 29th, 27th, 27th. The Red Sox were 12th during Dustin Pedroia’s last full season in 2017. It’s well past time to find a capable replacement for the future club Hall of Famer. 

Christian Arroyo received a long look down the stretch and has been acquired twice — both with the Rays and Boston — by Bloom. Michael Chavis, Jonathan Arauz and Yairo Munoz represent other in-house options while deeper organizational fits could include C.J. Chatham, Jeter Downs and Hudson Potts. 

This would be an ideal spot to hit the market, and the Red Sox will find no shortage of options — D.J. LeMahieu, Kolten Wong, Jonathan Villar, Tommy La Stella, Jonathan Schoop and Kiké Hernandez are all free agents. Boston could also force a premium bat with limited defensive experience into the role thanks to Cora’s history as a utility man and the presence of former infielders Carlos Febles and Ramon Vazquez on his staff. 

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