The Red Sox lineup is much better on Tuesday morning than it was 48 hours ago. It's also not finished, as there are too many players for too few spots, but we can read between the lines a bit and figure out who is sticking around and who is likely heading out. From there, we can construct, if not an accurate lineup, at least a position-by-position look at who it is the Red Sox will be trotting out on Opening Day 2015.
Let's do some of that pruning right now, before diving in. Yoenis Cespedes is currently on the Red Sox, but given reports state that Hanley Ramirez was signed to play left field, and that good, inexpensive players like Mookie Betts are needed to balance out the lucrative deals of Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and whichever expensive pitcher the Sox acquire to head their rotation, he's probably gone. Hanley might not even be with the Red Sox if Cespedes was still open to an extension that the Sox were also open to, and with his deal expiring in a year, it makes sense to move him for the same reasons it made sense to acquire him in the first place: he's really good at baseball. So, Cespedes is gone, and it'll almost assuredly be for pitching (or the prospects to help acquire pitching).
Shane Victorino would be an easy pick to start in the outfield if not for his health. He's missed time with injury in all but one season in his 30s, and is recovering from 2014 back surgery at present. He has the talent to start, but with the way his body has been handling the rigors of a full-time schedule, he -- and the Red Sox -- might be better off if they spread his playing time around by making him an elite fourth outfielder and key piece of depth. At the same time, Victorino is a player who the Sox could deal to a team who can't help but take the risk on his health: someone like the Mariners desperately needs offense if they're ever to seriously compete, and even 100 games of Victorino might help push them over the edge. Either way, let's cut Victorino out of a starting role for our purposes.
That leaves us with this group of nine starters, who we'll list out by proposed lineup order.
1. Mookie Betts, RH, Right Field
Betts is the reason you keep Victorino from being a starter. He trounced Double-A, conquered Triple-A in short order, and has batted .291/.368/.444 in his limited major-league time. He has the skills to thrive in the majors both at the plate and in the field, and unlike previous prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, has already dealt with struggles -- and overcame them -- in his professional career. The Sox watched him work hard and bounce back, and he very well might already be capable of an above-average big-league season at the age of 22. With his batting eye, ability to make consistent, strong contact, and plate discipline, he makes all kinds of sense as the leadoff hitter the Red Sox need.
2. Dustin Pedroia, RH, Second Base
Pedroia might have not the power he used to as he ages, injuries take their toll, and the league adjusts to him, but he can still be an effective table setter. He's a smart hitter who can put his bat on the ball with effective results, even if it just ends up being a single, and has the eye and discipline to take a walk to set things up for the bigger bats behind him. Maybe a few years ago he could have made sense batting in the middle, but present-day Pedroia should live in the two hole.
Defense is where Pedroia truly shines these days, but he can still hit enough. (Photo credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)
3. David Ortiz, LH, Designated Hitter
Ortiz could also bat fourth, but the lineup is very right-handed heavy, so plopping him in the three spot makes strategic sense given the bats that now exist behind him. Ortiz's low batting average on balls in play dropped his batting average down to .263, but he was otherwise fantastic as usual, and produced one of the greatest age-38 campaigns in baseball's long history. You never know when he'll stop being Big Papi, but he's to be treated as one of the game's great middle-of-the-order threats until he isn't.
4. Mike Napoli, RH, First Base
Your traditional power bat hitting cleanup, except this time Napoli's hand isn't busted and his sleep apnea has hopefully been dealt with through offseason surgery. Even if he doesn't hit more than 20 or so homers, Napoli knows how to lace a double and gets on base often enough to crowd the bases for the hitters behind him, hitters who were nonexistent in 2014's weak lineup.
5. Hanley Ramirez, RH, Left Field
Home runs are not going to be a significant feature of the 2015 Red Sox, but they don't have to be if hitters like Hanley do their thing. Despite playing his home games in parks that lean towards pitchers the last few years in Miami and Los Angeles, Ramirez posted a 133 OPS+ and .285/.356/.486 line. If he's precisely what he was while with the Dodgers for two-plus seasons, he'll be one of Boston's very best hitters, and off of shortstop, won't be the drag on defense he's been.
Photo credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
6. Pablo Sandoval, S, Third Base
Sandoval fits into the six spot well because he's a pretty good, but not great, hitter, and he happens to be a switch-hitter as well. It keeps the Sox from having too many right-handers in a row -- unless that's precisely what they want against a lefty -- and lets Ortiz, Napoli, and Hanley form a little trio of doom as well.
7. Xander Bogaerts, RH, Shortstop
Bogaerts has a much higher offensive ceiling than Sandoval, but after 2014, it's probably best to let him develop at his own pace in the back-end of the lineup. Plus, given how many good hitters -- or possibilities for good hitters -- there are in this proposed lineup, it barely matters who hits where in some cases. Between Sandoval being a switch-hitter and Bogaerts needing to show he's ready, the seven spot makes sense for him.
Offseason Must Reads
This is not the 2011 Red Sox all over again
It's so easy to look at the additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and think about 2011, but resist those temptations.
Offseason Must Reads
8. Rusney Castillo, RH, Center Field
Rusney could also fill in as the leadoff hitter as necessary, but as he's a bit more of a high-average guy with an aggressive approach, it probably makes more sense to have him at the back end. He can draw a walk, sure, but he's going to attack his pitch when he sees it, whether it's the first pitch he sees or the 10th -- let Mookie and Pedroia get the pitcher working hard to start the game, and Castillo will have already had a chance to see what it is he wants to swing at by the time he comes up.
9. Christian Vazquez, RH, Catcher
Vazquez is the one obvious weak link in the lineup, but he's also succeeded offensively in the minors before, and historically takes time to get going at a new level. He might end up settling in at .260/.340/.370 or so the second time around if his past work is any indication, and while that's not going to wow anyone, it's pretty damn good from the worst hitter in your lineup. If he's more like .230/.310/.330 or so, just take a moment to appreciate what the rest of the lineup is doing/is capable of, as well as bask in Vazquez's elite defense behind the plate. He'll make his money whether he hits a little or a lot.
Anything you would change, whether it be the order, the positions, or even the players? There is a whole lot of time between now and Opening Day, but, aside from the trades of someone we know has to happen mathematically, the lineup -- or at least the people who will be in it -- seems to be fairly set.