Eight members of the Red Sox organization moved into isolation on Saturday after relief pitcher Matt Barnes tested positive for COVID-19. By Monday, Barnes and those in quarantine were cleared to return to normal activities. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox will face plenty of tough opponents this season. The American League East alone features the loaded Yankees, the defending AL champs in Tampa, and a reloaded Blue Jays squad.

But we were reminded Saturday that the biggest challenge facing the Red Sox this season is the same one we’ve all been facing for more than a year.

When Matt Barnes tested positive for COVID-19, the Red Sox had to spring into damage control just five days before Opening Day. Contact tracing ensued, with eight members of the organization moved into isolation while the rest of the baseball staff crossed its fingers and hoped for the best.

The Red Sox, as it turned out, survived a scare. On Monday, Barnes’ positive diagnosis was classified as non-infectious. Barnes and the other team members in quarantine were allow to return to normal activities.

“I’m just happy that he’s going to be back with us and it seems like we’re going to be at full strength in a few days,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.

The Red Sox may have dodged a difficult situation in this episode, but coronavirus can and does continue to cause havoc for any team.

Look at the Boston Bruins. Early last week, they were waiting to get back on the ice after having several players land on the COVID-19 list. By week’s end they were playing, but not at full strength, as some players were taken off the list and others added to it.

In every sport, roster depth is more important than ever.

“It’s just another feature of the season we all have to contend with,” Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom said Sunday. “This is why we have focused so much on doing the right thing and trying to adhere to the protocols.”

This year’s protocols are significantly stricter than the ones that were cobbled together in 2020. By all accounts, players were buying into the rules. Yet even the most careful people can contract the virus. When a member of a group tests positive, all we can do is hope the spread is limited.

Positive COVID-19 tests aren’t the only concern for baseball teams trying to keep their rosters healthy and intact.

On Friday, the Red Sox announce that Eduardo Rodriguez would miss his Opening Day start for the second straight year. This had nothing to do with the virus, unless the “dead arm” Rodriguez is dealing with was a direct result of having missed all of last season because of complications from COVID-19.

A day earlier, Christian Vazquez was hit in the eye by a ball. The catcher will have stitches removed on Thursday and the team isn’t sure if he’d be able to start the season on time.

Meantime, the preseason rolled on as the Red Sox tried to play out the string before flying north Tuesday night. On Thursday, they are scheduled to play April baseball for the first time in two years, with fans at Fenway for the first time in 18 months.

“This is bigger than sports,” said Cora. “We’ve been living through this since March last year. We’re doing our best possible to put a show out there for the fans and get their minds away from the pandemic. That’s the way I see it.”

That’s all anyone can do. We do our best, and hope for the best. Knowing all the while that there are so many things beyond our control.

Speaking of which, Thursday’s forecast calls for rain in Boston. You didn’t think any of this was going to be easy, did you?

Lewiston native Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN.

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