Around this time of year, when Spring Training is starting to get into full-swing, there is a lot of fun talk about competitions going on at the various camps around the league. As entertaining as those conversations can be, more often than not most of the major decisions regarding how the roster will be constructed have already been decided. The only true battles that typically take place in March are for the last couple of spots on the active roster. The Red Sox are a perfect example of this, as their starting lineup is mostly set, and their rotation already has all of its pieces. The only spots that are still up for grabs are the last couple of bullpen slots, and backup position players.
With these types of battles, performance usually isn't the only thing dictating the end result. When the general manager is putting together the active roster for Opening Day, he must also keep in mind whether or not a player has options. If someone has already used his three option years, he must clear waivers before being sent down to a minor-league team. The Red Sox have five players who are out of options and have five years or less of service time, and it may impact how the Opening Day roster looks.
Doubront became a regular in this team's rotation last season, and did enough to ensure himself a spot on the roster as long as he leaves Spring Training healthy. In 2012, his first season as a full-time starter, he threw 161 innings in 29 starts, putting up a 4.86 ERA (89 ERA+) and a 2.4 K/BB ratio. He hit some speed bumps at various times during this past season, but his upside combined with his strikeout totals are enough to earn him a spot in the rotation again this year. Doubront was going to be on the Opening Day roster whether or not he had options remaining.
Morales is another guy who would most likely be on the Opening Day roster regardless of his situation with his options, but probably not as much of a sure-thing as Doubront. The big reason the left-hander is going to remain on the team is his potential as a starting pitcher. After pitching exclusively as a reliever since 2009, Morales got a few opportunities to start last season, and showed some serious potential. In fact, he allowed just 10 earned runs in his first five starts, and half of them came in one appearance against the Yankees. He will be on the active roster on April 1st, and is likely the first in line should one of the starters go down with injury.
This former top-prospect earned a roster spot with the performance he put up in 2012. Miller never panned out as a starter after being a highly-touted amateur and minor-leaguer, but Boston converted him to relief full-time last season, and he showed the first signs of sustained success in his career. He threw 40-1/3 innings last season, finishing up with a 131 ERA+ and a 2.6 K/BB ratio on the year. He was even better against left-handed hitters, who had an OPS of just 429 against the southpaw, while righties put up a 829 OPS. Though his talents never translated into a major-league rotation, Miller has earned the chance to show that his success last year was not a fluke.
Here we see the best chance of a guy who could be sent through waivers, as it's likely that Mortensen isn't on the Opening Day roster. The right-hander came to Boston last offseason in exchange for Marco Scutaro, in a deal that eventually helped Boston under the luxury tax threshold. Mortensen has actually been solid in his last two seasons, which he split between the Sox and the Rockies. In those two years, he's put up a 125 ERA+ in 100-1/3 innings. However, despite that success, he doesn't have the same type of upside possessed by other pitchers in this bullpen. In fact, MLB Depth Charts has him missing the cut. If the team decides to trade one or more of their relievers, and/or if Daniel Bard doesn't show signs he can be the Daniel Bard of old, then Mortensen has a chance to be on the Opening Day roster. However, at this moment, he looks like the best bet to be left off the roster, despite being out of options.
Ciriaco probably represents the player on the Red Sox who's lack of options will most affect the construction of this roster. Though he became a fan-favorite after some great performances against the Yankees last season, his overall production left much to be desired. He put up a decent enough 88 OPS+, but much of that was due to a fortunate .352 batting average on balls in play. Without so many hits on balls in play, his production would've taken a sharp turn downward. In 272 plate appearances a year ago, he drew just eight unintentional walks (2.9-percent), which becomes more and more unfathomable the more you think about it. In the Joel Hanrahan trade, the Red Sox also received utility guy Brock Holt. He and Ciriaco seem like they should be perfect for a true Spring Training competition, but Ciriaco's lack of options will change that. The versatile Ciriaco will almost certainly be the utility infielder on this team, and a big reason for that will be the fact that he has run out of options.