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Boston Red Sox to evaluate futures of ‘cornerstone players’ Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts

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BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox didn’t win the World Series in 2021, but they feel like they’re onto something.

As the team reflected on their run to the ALCS, losing at the hands of the Houston Astros in six games, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, president Sam Kennedy and general manager Brian O’Halloran discussed Boston’s future heading into the offseason.

While the the Red Sox face many decisions and obstacles heading into the offseason — including the looming decision from designated hitter J.D. Martinez on his player option and the pending free-agency of starter Eduardo Rodriguez — the future of the team’s left-side of the infield became a prevalent theme.

Boston views both shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers as “cornerstone players” for the team’s future, according to Bloom, but when asked if they saw both player sticking in their respective positions, Cora did not commit.

“There’s a lot of teams out there that, yeah, Raffy Devers ‘struggles defensively’ but on a daily basis, you want Raffy Devers. Same things with Xander Bogaerts. Same thing with [second baseman] Christian Arroyo,” Cora said. “We’ll address everything we talked about. I mean it’s so early, it’s too soon to start digging so deep into all this stuff, but I do believe the way we ended up playing and the things that we found out as a group defensively is going to make us better not only in the offseason, but also next year.”

This potential position re-evaluation for Bogaerts and Devers comes at a time when the front office will need to make decisions on both players’ future with the team. Devers is eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason and the Boston front office will prioritize contract extension talks with the 25-year-old slugger, team sources told ESPN.

Devers experienced elbow inflammation at the end of the 2021 season and will heal through rest.

The Red Sox also face a looming crossroads with Bogaerts, who can opt out of the final three years of his six-year, $120 million contract at the end of 2022. According to sources close to Bogaerts, the shortstop currently plans on opting out of the contract after 2022, but hopes to remain in Boston and finish his career with the Red Sox. The three-time All-Star shortstop is also open to moving to second or third base down the road.

Among the main focuses in the offseason is the rotation and specifically the future of Rodriguez in Boston. Bloom said that the team has not made a decision on whether they will extend a qualifying offer to the 28-year-old lefty. Additionally, the team will evaluate their approach on the futures of Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck, who Boston views as capable of being rotation starters.

“One of the reasons we ended up winning the wild card and we got to where we ended up is because of those guys, and with Chris Sale being healthy and the way he finished the season,” Cora said. “I think everybody here and everybody in the organization feels very positive about his offseason program and what’s gonna happen next year.”

Boston will face a decision on Kyle Schwarber, who expressed interest in coming back to Boston. Bloom said the feeling was mutual and that the team is not worried about his ability to adapt to a potentially bigger role at first base.

“We played some of our best baseball with Kyle learning that position on the fly,” Bloom said. “I think we saw him get better a time went on.”

Bloom and company will also need to decide the future of Christian Vazquez, whom the team holds a club option.

“He is a really important guy to us, and we know how much the organization means to him,” Bloom said. “It’s a hard position to check all the boxes and you don’t take for granted when you have someone who showed that he can do it.”

Boston also let go of first base coach Tom Goodwin, who was in charge of outfield defense and baserunning. Goodwin did not finish the season with the team due to his unvaccinated status and MLB guidelines, but Bloom said that did not factor into the team’s decision to let go of the coach, who’s worked in Boston since the 2018 season.

Goodwin spent two stints on the COVID-19 injured list because he was an unvaccinated close contact of coaches or players who tested positive. The rest of the coaching staff will return.

Among the players under contract for next year are Devers, Bogaerts, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale and Kike Hernandez. Bloom hoped to build a core for sustainable success during the 2021 season, putting Boston in a position to be a contender year after year. He hopes the 2021 season just represents the start of a long-term period of winning at Fenway Park.

“I talked about how even if we went all the way and won the whole thing, we wanted to come out of it feeling like this could be the start of something, like we had our next core,” Bloom said. “I think we’re there.”

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Death of Tampa Bay Rays bullpen catcher Jean Ramirez ruled a suicide

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The death of Tampa Bay Rays bullpen catcher Jean Ramirez near his home in Fort Worth, Texas, has been ruled a suicide.

The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office released the finding on Thursday, three days after the 28-year-old’s body was found.

The Ramirez family released a statement through the Rays, thanking the team for its support.

“The loss of our son has been the most excruciating experience we have lived. Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t see the signs. Struggling in silence is not ok,” the family said in the statement.

“It is our commitment to honor our son’s life by helping other families,” the family added. “No parent should have to endure the loss of their child.”

The Rays announced the death in a Twitter post last Tuesday but did not release details. The Tampa Bay Times reported the body was found Monday in a field near the family home.

Ramirez, a native of Puerto Rico who attended high school in Fort Worth, was a 28th-round draft pick out of Illinois State in 2016. He played three years in Tampa Bay’s minor league system before beginning a three-season stint as a bullpen catcher with the major league team in 2019.

“We are very grateful to the Tampa Bay Rays organization, whom we consider our family, for their love and support,” the family said. “Our son felt loved by all of you.”

Manager Kevin Cash paid tribute to Ramirez in a statement released by the Rays on Tuesday.

“He brought so much passion and energy each day to our clubhouse and bullpen, and his love for the Rays and baseball was evident to all who interacted with him,” Cash said.

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Brad Ausmus joins Oakland A’s as bench coach for first-time manager Mark Kotsay

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Brad Ausmus, the former manager of the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels, has been hired as bench coach for the Oakland Athletics, providing some much-needed experience to the coaching staff of rookie manager Mark Kotsay.

The A’s finalized Kotsay’s coaching staff on Friday, also announcing the promotion of Tommy Everidge to major league hitting coach and the hiring of Chris Cron as an assistant hitting coach.

Ausmus, 52, managed the Tigers from 2014 to 2017, winning the American League Central at the beginning of that four-year stretch and finishing with a 314-332 regular-season record. The longtime major league catcher then went 72-90 in his only season as the Angels’ manager in 2019, a year tarnished by the sudden death of young pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

Everidge, 38, has spent the last eight years as a hitting coach in the A’s farm system and was originally drafted by the team in 2004. Cron, the father of Colorado Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron, spent the last eight years in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor league system, most recently as the organization’s field coordinator and has compiled two decades’ worth of managing experience in the minor leagues.

The hirings prompted Darren Bush to move from hitting coach to third-base coach and Eric Martins to move from assistant hitting coach to first-base coach. Mike Aldrete will transition from first-base coach to quality control coach. Kotsay, 46, spent the last six years on the A’s coaching staff and was hired over the offseason to replace Bob Melvin as the team’s manager. The A’s allowed Melvin to opt out of the final year of his contract to join the San Diego Padres.

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Buster Olney’s Top 10s for 2022

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A lot of the credit for the Atlanta Braves’ postseason surge was rightly attributed to the midseason deals made by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, because without Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson, Atlanta would not have hosted a championship parade.

But what may have been lost in that narrative was just how much organizational bedrock continued to develop underneath those additions. Austin Riley, just 24 years old, became one of the National League’s best players. Max Fried, who turns 28 next week, posted a 1.74 ERA in his last 14 regular-season starts. Ian Anderson, just 23, now has a full season of experience. The talented Kyle Wright, 26, may have reached a crossroads in his development during the postseason, with moments on which he can build confidence. Dansby Swanson had 62 extra-base hits last season and has developed into one of the sport’s most consistent defenders. Ozzie Albies is a multitalented star. And Ronald Acuña Jr. was the front-runner for NL MVP at the time he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

As the National League Championship Series began in October, the Braves were considered something of a long shot against the Los Angeles Dodgers — and similarly, they were betting underdogs against the Houston Astros in the World Series. So underestimate them now at your own peril.

The Braves’ ownership still needs to open its fattened coffers and pay Freddie Freeman. If that happens, Atlanta may actually have a better team in 2022 than that group honored in the championship parade, and have a legit shot at becoming the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to win back-to-back titles.

Early in 2022, with a lot of players unsigned and many more trades to come after the next labor agreement is forged, here are MLB’s top 10 teams:

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