Red Sox

Alex Cora expresses confidence in Red Sox' bullpen

Alex Cora expresses confidence in Red Sox' bullpen

The Boston Red Sox bullpen is going to look quite a bit different this year. With Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly both gone, the back end of the bullpen will change and it will have a ripple effect on the rest of the unit.

Ahead of Opening Day, the Red Sox cut down their roster and made it apparent they will keep eight relief pitchers. They are Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Colten Brewer, Brian Johnson, and Hector Velazquez. On paper, that's not the most inspiring group, especially considering that they have logged a combined 15 saves over the span of their major league careers.

Still, despite the inexperience and lack of name recognition, manager Alex Cora doesn't seem too worried about the bullpen. Recently, he spoke to WEEI's Rob Bradford about the group and expressed confidence in them.

One thing we found out towards the end, that although the people outside our world think we’re short on pitching, we’re not, and we’re going to be fine.

In addition to his vote of confidence in the group, Cora explained why the bullpen could be successful and also placed the responsibility for making it work on himself.

"I think stuff-wise, we’re good," Cora said after his team's final Grapefruit League game Saturday. "There are certain guys that obviously they were working on a few things but like I’ve been saying all along, we’ve got guys who have got stuff. Hard throwers, cutters, breaking balls, sinkers. Now it’s up to me and the coaching staff to identify the matchups and use them. I’m very comfortable."

One of Cora's biggest successes in his first year as a manager was his ability to identify matchups and pick the right players to use in various situations. This became his calling card en route to the World Series title, as he often pulled the right string to help his team to win. If he can figure out the right way to utilize the strengths of his relief pitchers, that could help to make the bullpen less of a weakness.

It may take a couple of weeks for the Red Sox' bullpen roles to be firmly figured out. But for the moment, it appears that this is the group that they are going to run with during the 2019 season.

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The next Red Sox GM should build around these five players

The next Red Sox GM should build around these five players

The defending MVP? No. The former Cy Young winner? Nope. The seven-time All-Star who just averaged over 13 strikeouts per nine innings? Uh-uh.

The question is whom I want back for next year's Red Sox. And the answer is kind of surprising, once you parse it and realize your list only includes five names.

The exercise crystallizes just what kind of challenge awaits Dave Dombrowski's successor as the Red Sox enter a period of bridging/rebuilding that could get ugly.

I wouldn't call any of the following "untouchable" because I don't believe in that concept. But they're the last guys I'd want to move if I were evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the roster: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brandon Workman.

That means no Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, David Price, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Nathan Eovaldi, to name just a few. Money plays a central role in these rankings, especially if the Red Sox are serious about corralling their runaway payroll. That's why Betts, an otherwise obvious fit, is a no for me, because it's going to cost $300 million to keep him.

First off are two obvious names: Bogaerts and Devers. They're the present and future of the organization, with one already signed to a reasonable long-term contract and the other a candidate for an extension.

Bogaerts has emerged as a heart-and-soul player, and his six-year, $120 million deal makes him a bargain. He has already topped 30 homers and 50 doubles while playing virtually every day, and he should finish above .300 for the second time in his career, too. He is a foundational piece not just on the field, but in the clubhouse, and the Red Sox are lucky to be able to build around him.

He has taken a particular interest in Devers, the supremely talented 22-year-old who is posting the kind of numbers (.307-31-112-.910) that suggest he could one day challenge for a Triple Crown. Devers remains under team control through 2023, but at some point the Red Sox will undoubtedly broach the subject of a long-term extension. He is already a monster offensively, but with considerable room to grow.

An offense built around young stars would be the envy of most teams, but this one could benefit from a veteran presence, and that's where Martinez enters the picture. The Red Sox don't suddenly need to become a small-market team, but they'd be wise to start limiting their long-term commitments after tying up too much money in Price ($217 million) and Sale ($145 million), in particular. Martinez can opt out of the final three years and roughly $62.5 million remaining on his contract, but he's at an age (32) and position (DH) where he shouldn't command more than four years on the open market.

It may be old-fashioned to say that Martinez's presence allows other hitters in the lineup to flourish, but it's true. Like David Ortiz before him, Martinez commands respect in the middle of the lineup, and as long as he's around, Bogaerts and Devers won't feel the same kind of pressure to produce. Add his very specific skills as a clubhouse hitting guru, and Martinez is worth keeping.

If only we could say the same about any of the overpriced starters. Price will undergo surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist that might solve all his problems, but if the Red Sox could get out from under the final three years and $96 million remaining on his contract, they wouldn't ask twice.

Sale, meanwhile, is still awaiting a follow-up visit with Dr. James Andrews after shutting it down for the final six weeks because of elbow soreness. And even if Eovaldi feels strong heading into the offseason, he remains not only injury-prone, but wildly inconsistent.

E-Rod, however, keeps establishing himself as a legit top-three starter. Still only 26 years old, the lefty has finally delivered his breakthrough campaign, going 18-6 with a 3.53 ERA while averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Maintaining this momentum in 2020 will be a challenge, but he's the one starter I'd bet on at the moment.

Workman seemed an unlikely candidate to be labeled indispensable when the season started, especially since he was only a few months removed from being left off the World Series roster. But the 31-year-old has inexorably transformed himself into one of the game's most uniquely dominant relievers.

Detractors point to his high walk totals and reliance on a curveball as proof that he's just a one-season gimmick, but doing so ignores (a) his 13 strikeouts per nine, and (b) the fact that his fastball is regularly hitting 95 mph again.

Workman has the makeup and stuff to serve as the last line of defense, but the flexibility and selflessness to set up if the Red Sox add a closer. Whatever role he fills in 2020, I just know I want him on my team.

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Highlights from the Red Sox' 7-4 win over the Rays

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USA Today Sports Images

Highlights from the Red Sox' 7-4 win over the Rays

FINAL SCORE:  Red Sox 7, Rays 4

IN BRIEF: Christian Vazquez's three-run home run in the first inning proved to be the big knock of the game for the Red Sox as they avoided a 3-0 hole in their series with the Rays Sunday. 

BOX SCORE

RED SOX RECORD: 81-74

HIGHLIGHTS

1st inning

J.D. Martinez singled to right, Devers scored (1-0 BOS)
Christian Vazquez smacked a three-run home run to left, Martinez and Bogaerts scored (4-0 BOS)

Tommy Pham grounded into a double play, Wendle came around to score (4-1 BOS)

2nd inning

Kevin Kiermaier singled to center, Lowe scored (4-2 BOS)

THE BEST KIND OF DOUBLE PLAY

3rd inning

Joey Wendle hit a solo home run to left (4-3 BOS)

4th inning

Martinez walked, Bradley Jr. scored (5-3 BOS)
Rafael Devers scored on a wild pitch from Andrew Kittredge (6-3 BOS)

7th inning

Martinez scored on throwing error by Wendle (7-3 BOS)

9th inning

McKay blasted a solo home run (7-4 BOS)

UP NEXT:
@Rangers, Tuesday, 8:05 p.m., NESN
@Rangers, Wednesday, 8:05 p.m., NESN
@Rangers, Thursday, 2:05 p.m., NESN

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