In January, Alex Cora told reporters at the annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner: “Wait until this year.”

These were startling words from the manager of a defending champion, but Cora truly believes that he has a roster built to become the first team to repeat as World Series champs since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.

Cora’s remark was even more startling considering that for the better part of the 20th century, the Boston Red Sox rally cry was “Wait ’til next year.”

Next year is finally here. Pitchers and catchers hold their first workout on Wednesday in Fort Myers, Florida, and the questions about how this team expects to repeat the magic of a record-setting season are already being asked.

It begins with the manager. Cora likes to talk about getting “back to zero,” a concept he learned from Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, who knows a thing or two about repeating. His philosophy is that every season begins with a blank slate. You aren’t the defending champion, you’re just another team trying to create its identity and win games.

The Red Sox should do plenty of that. The baseball landscape is littered with bad teams, including two in the AL East. The Sox will play 38 games combined against the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, two teams that will be hard-pressed to get to .500 in 2019.

The New York Yankees will play those teams the same number of times. They had a very good offseason, bolstering the rotation with the addition of James Paxton and the return of J.A. Happ. Adam Ottavino, another lock-down reliever, joins one of the best bullpens in the game. D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki join the lineup, bringing a combined seven All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves with them.

Last year the Red Sox and Yankees each cracked the 100-win plateau and faced each other in the playoffs. There’s a strong chance that could happen again this season. The rivals were joined by Houston and Cleveland among the AL elite. That won’t change this year.

The Red Sox still have a better rotation than the one assembled in New York, especially now that Nathan Eovaldi has been added for a full season. And keep an eye on Eduardo Rodriguez. At the age of 26 this could be his year to shine.

Cora represents another advantage in the Red Sox/Yankees comparison. He made all the right moves in 2018, resting players along the way yet still winning a franchise-record 108 regular-season games. And, more importantly, 11 more in the postseason.

He’ll need to be at his best in 2019, especially if Dave Dombrowski doesn’t add an impact reliever by the end of March. It seems hard to believe he won’t. Craig Kimbrel and others are sitting out there looking for a contract. The Red Sox could use at least one more bullpen arm. It feels like last February, when Boston opened camp needing an impact bat to solidify the lineup. Two weeks later, J.D. Martinez joined the club.

Reports vary, but Dombrowski’s payroll is already close to the $246 million plateau for 2019. That’s when Major League Baseball’s harshest penalties for overspending kick in.

Last year, the Red Sox paid just under $12 million dollars in luxury tax penalties, and their top selection in the 2019 amateur draft will be moved back 10 slots. It’s the high cost of winning it all. It’s also not sustainable, even for teams in the most lucrative baseball markets.

So what you see might be what you get in the Red Sox bullpen. Cora believes it’s enough to contend again. That’s why he says he can’t wait ’til this year.

Neither can we. And the wait is finally over.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.