By Dan Roche

BOSTON (CBS) — Spring Training has arrived and Red Sox players are seeing their shadows down in sunny Fort Myers. That means six more weeks of optimism. Let’s just go with that.

On paper — which is Theo Epstein’s favorite term this time of year — there’s no way the 2021 Red Sox can be as bad as the 2020 Red Sox. How is that for optimism?

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The 2020 Red Sox finished 24-36 and it felt worse than that. Good guy Ron Roenicke went through everything, from an MLB sign-stealing investigation, the trade of a franchise player in Mookie Betts (and David Price), an ever-changing roster, the absence of Chris Sale, poor performances everywhere, COVID issues, and seemingly much, much more.

Last year, Boston had 16 different pitchers start a game in a 60-game season (Perez, Eovaldi, Mazza, Godley, Weber, Brasier, Brice, Brewer, Houck, Osich, Kickham, Hart, Pivetta, Hall, Triggs, and Leyer). In contrast, the 2018 Red Sox had 11 different pitchers start a game.

As for 2021 (and 2022), Chaim Bloom has a reshaping plan to restock the farm system while also keeping the Major League team competitive. Patience will be the key over the next few seasons.

While we’re being patient, here are some positives surrounding the 2021 Boston Red Sox:

Alex Cora is back. He guided the Sox to a 192-132 record over his first two seasons before sitting out 2020 due to his role in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. He served his time and will now have to earn back the trust of his employers, staff, players and fans going forward. He appears ready to do that.

Alex Cora (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

On the field, he has a way of getting the best out of his players. He also has a passion for winning. Getting the best out of Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Martin Perez, Matt Barnes and many others will be key for Boston to have a chance. Cora has done it before.

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There are major league starting pitchers on this roster. That wasn’t the case many times last year. Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards and — eventually, Chris Sale — are all proven arms when healthy. Nick Pivetta and Matt Andriese can also perform on the MLB stage. Tanner Houck is intriguing after his brilliant outings late last season.

Eduardo Rodriguez (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

If the Red Sox can stay healthy and Dave Bush and his staff can get them on a good track, then this Sox team is already way, way better than the 2020 team.

The bullpen should be better. And this is simply because the starting pitching will be much, much improved. Barnes can close and veteran Adam Ottavino was a big pickup. Add in Darwinzon Hernandez, Ryan Brasier, Josh Taylor, Austin Brice, Colten Brewer, Marcus Walden and more, and Cora should find a way to piece together a pretty solid bullpen.

Matt Barnes (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The offense still has the potential to be very good. I fully expect J.D. Martinez to bounce back to his .300/30 homer/100 RBIs/1.000 OPS level of 2018 and 2019. Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts are studs while Alex Verdugo, Christian Vazquez, Kike Hernandez, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero and Marwin Gonzalez add capable bats. This lineup should score runs.

J.D. Martinez (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

– I do have one pretty big gripe, and it’s that the outfield that led this team to the 2018 World Series title is gone. What bothers me about saying good-bye to Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. (who remains a free agent) was they were all homegrown. That’s exactly what every big league organization spends thousands of hours trying to do. The Mookie circumstances have been well documented, so there’s no need to go there, but I thought the return of Cora would help revitalize Benintendi. The Red Sox thought otherwise.

Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Moving forward, Verdugo will be a star if he stays healthy. Cordero and Renfroe have tools, but can they perform over 162 games, provide adequate defense, and play in Boston? Legitimate questions that we don’t know the answers to yet.

There are many, many “ifs” entering camp for the 2021 Red Sox. On paper, the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays are all better than Boston. Anything can happen though, so this team should be interesting to watch.

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Again, patience will be key as Bloom tries to reshape this team into a year in, year out playoff contender.