Uncertainty in Red Sox camp with Kenley Jansen injury and trade rumors swirling

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox pitchers and catchers held their first workout on Wednesday at JetBlue Park. One pitcher was noticeably absent on the backfields: closer Kenley Jansen.

Jansen, who arrived in camp on Wednesday, a day after pitchers were scheduled to report, has been the source of trade rumors over the last few weeks, making his early absence even more noticeable.

Adding to the unease surrounding Jansen’s situation, late in the morning, as one group of pitchers threw side sessions on the backfields and another group worked on fielding drills, chief baseball officer Craig Breslow said he had an announcement to make. Reporters gathered around Breslow, who revealed that Jansen was dealing with general lat soreness and was day-to-day.

That’s it. No trade — for now.

So, what does that mean? No trade until Jansen’s better? Stalling until a deal comes together? Genuinely just a sore muscle that’s unimportant in the grand scheme of things?

The questions about Jansen’s status and future add another level of uncertainty to a club already dealing with a lot of questions.

Even on Tuesday as camp commenced, Breslow’s remarks were cagey when asked about the Jansen rumors.

“I think where we stand is he’s on this team,” Breslow said. “He is an All-Star caliber closer who’s had an incredible career and we’re happy for that. We have talented players on our team that are potentially of interest to others. But as of right now we’re excited about what he brings, what the backend of our bullpen brings and the depth that we have down there.”

A person familiar with the situation indicated there was nothing close to happening on the Jansen trade front. But things could change quickly in a market that’s still developing, even as camps are underway. This isn’t the first time the Red Sox have explored Jansen’s trade market. A second source familiar with the situation told The Athletic the Red Sox discussed trading Jansen to Arizona last summer, but never found an offer they liked.

With the status of the most veteran player on the staff in limbo, it feels as though the Red Sox can’t fully turn the page yet to 2024. The 36-year-old, nearing the end of his career, surely would like a chance at another World Series. He’s owed $16 million this season in the final year of a two-year deal and clearly would fortify the bullpen of any team with a more sure postseason path than the Red Sox. That he’s still with the Red Sox is a bit odd by most accounts.

Jansen spoke with the media shortly after Breslow’s announcement and noted that the lat strain cropped up last week and he’s taking precautions by monitoring it. He said he’s been avoiding the trade rumors, but admitted it was strange to see the Red Sox trade veteran Chris Sale and not re-sign Justin Turner.

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this, me being one of the oldest here,” Jansen said, adding that he needs to bring energy and be a good example for the younger players in camp.

It’s been a strange camp in many ways for the Red Sox as leadership tries to justify not adding more to the roster this winter. Breslow’s remarks on Tuesday reinforced that.

“I think we can appreciate that things haven’t come together in a way that I had anticipated,” he said.

Whatever the strategy, it’s forced the players to try to embrace an underdog status. Jansen was asked if the Red Sox were capable of reaching the playoffs.

“You never know, right?” he replied. “I think we’ve just got to work hard.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Meanwhile, another noticeable absence on Wednesday was manager Alex Cora, who was dealing with a stomach bug and stayed away so as not to spread illness early in camp. (There’s surely a joke in here about Cora being sick of the club already, but we digress…)

Beyond Jansen, there’s uncertainty with how the rotation will shake out with Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck and even Josh Winckowski in the starting mix. There’s uncertainty about the outfield alignment, too. Though it seemed for much of the winter that the Red Sox wanted outfield prospect Ceddanne Rafaela to refine his approach at the plate before handing him the reins in center field, Cora suggested on Tuesday Rafaela had a legitimate chance to make the opening-day roster.

What that means for Jarren Duran, who’s also dealt with trade rumors, remains to be seen. Coming off a breakout season — albeit one that ended in injury — Duran is a full-go after three months of rehabbing his lower body following a broken left toe.

“We have so many weapons,” Duran said of his role. “I’ll just go out there and do the best I can wherever they want to put me. I know we have a bunch of dudes, anybody can play anywhere.”

Duran also wondered how he would bounce back following the injury since he’s never dealt with a serious injury before. While he said he feels slower, Red Sox trainers have assured him he’s not.

“When I was running sprints yesterday, they were all really happy with where my speed is,” said Duran, who arrived at camp a week before position players are required to report. “I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I must be in a better spot than I’m telling myself.’”

But are the Red Sox touting Rafaela’s readiness because they might be trying to trade Duran? Will Jansen even be with the Red Sox by the time he starts throwing again?

Those questions linger even as several free agents, including starters Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell, remain on the market. Their availability adds, yes, even more uncertainty to what’s been an odd start to camp.

Will the Red Sox take advantage of the numerous notable free agents still available and upgrade in the coming weeks, or is this it? A “you never know” team that has “just got to work hard?”

(Photo of Jansen from last season: Paul Rutherford / Getty Images)

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