Red Sox

Red Sox Notebook: Cora unsure of bullpen setup, expecting improvement from two hitters

(Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox via Getty Images)

It's no secret that the starting rotation is the area that the Red Sox need to improve the most this season.

But it would be a mistake to forget about the importance of bolstering the team's bullpen.

In 2020, Red Sox relievers posted a cumulative 5.79 ERA, ranking them 27th out of 30 major league teams. They also recorded just 14 saves.

A late August trade saw the club deal off two key pieces -- Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman -- leaving Matt Barnes as one of the few established relievers at the back end of the bullpen. Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor, who were impressive as a rookie in 2019, each contracted COVID-19 before the start of summer camp, sidelining them for weeks. When they did join the major league roster halfway through the season, the rust was evident, resulting in a step backward for both pitchers.

All of which leaves a lot of uncertainty in the bullpen for 2021. There are seemingly countless options available in a flooded free agent market, but the Sox have yet to upgrade.

Among the unsettled issues is what the Red Sox will do with the closer's role. In the aftermath of Workman being sent to Philadelphia, Barnes took over the job and posted a 2.70 ERA in September while limiting opposing hitters to a .189 average. Manager Alex Cora is not ruling out that he could fill that again in 2021.

"I don't want to get into roles right now,'' said Cora, but (Barnes) is a guy we should consider. We should talk about him as a potential candidate to be the closer. Like I said before, it's not fair for anybody -- for the front office, for the coaching staff, for the players -- to say this guy is going to be this, this guy is going to do this. But Matt did an outstanding job last year.''