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Red Sox vs. Reds: Questions and answers

There's around 50 days to go in the 2014 season. 50 days in which to answer quite a few questions that could confuse the 2014-2015 offseason.

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Jim Rogash

For a team playing out the string like the Red Sox, there are two ways every bit of playing time provides value. The first is to the player. Though this doesn't so much matter for the veterans of the team, the rookies and sophomores of the world need major league experience, and there's no better opportunity to get them that experience than in games that do not matter, when their growing pains can't really do any damage.

For the team, on the other hand, it's about answering questions. There are times when it's right to add questions to a team--that was very much the case in the 2012-2013 offseason, when the Red Sox turned to free agents who guaranteed nothing, but offered the potential for the significant turnaround that the team needed. Still, it's always better to know than not. If a player can be counted on to contribute as a starter, great. If not, it's better to understand there's a hole that needs filling than to spend two months figuring that out while games are being lost in the process.

At the moment, the Red Sox are a team with a lot of playing time and a lot of questions that need answered at just about every position.

Who is Brock Holt? A super utility player? A starter? We've seen enough of his defensive flexibility to know that there is, at least, a place for him on the roster, but is he the sort of player who can take over a position in case of an injury and hold the fort? That would make it easier to rely on their prospects for starting roles in 2015 rather than trying to hold them in reserve in Triple-A as a first line of defense.

Is Jackie Bradley Jr.'s glove good enough to justify the bat? Is the bat as bad as it's seemed in 2014? There are few players who can handle center like Bradley, but he's been flirting with the Mendoza line for much of the year, and even hitting ninth, a bat like that can do serious damage to a lineup. What's changed from early July's hot streak to leave him 0-for-32 with 16 strikeouts, and can it be fixed?

What kind of spot does Christian Vazquez fill on the roster? Is he the starting catcher, or a backup? Do the Red Sox just need a warm body to handle every fourth game or so, or are they once again in the market for a starter to bridge the gap to Blake Swihart?

Even Xander Bogaerts, while not in danger of being written out of the plans long-term, might be at risk of seeing quite a bit of Pawtucket in 2015. The Red Sox are headed into the season with a ton of money and a mandate to compete, after all, thanks to their approach at the trade deadline. Given Xander's age, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Sox try to press the reset button while finding a more certain, short-term solution to start the season.

Then, of course, there's the rotation. Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo are all fighting for a position, with only Clay Buchholz* and Joe Kelly realistically "locked in" for 2015. Unless the Red Sox are shockingly quiet in that market, there's only going to be space for one or two of them next year, and even Pawtucket will be mighty crowded with the likes of Henry Owens, Edwin Escobar, and Brian Johnson needing starts.

These last fifty days are a proving ground, and could well define the plan going forward for the front office. There are questions to be answered, and players who need to prove that they're either risks worth taking in 2015, or not risks at all. With only 25 roster spots and so much playing time to go around, that's no small task.

*Yes, even with his 5.99 ERA. History matters quite a bit, and his injury issues are less significant when you consider the depth in Pawtucket.

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