The Red Sox have a full 40-man roster, something we were reminded of on Wednesday when Dan Butler was designated for assignment to make room for Craig Breslow. Butler is a potentially useful player, too, which goes to show you that not only is Boston's 40-man full, but it's also loaded with talent. Because of this, at this stage of the offseason, improving the 40 isn't the main focus: whittling down what already exists to fit onto the 25-man in-season roster is.
There are a whole lot of moving pieces on this roster, and therefore there are a number of acceptable variations of it the Sox could trot out on Opening Day 2015. By breaking things down, we can assemble a 25-man roster -- and some alternate possibilities -- from what the Sox have right now. We'll assume the Red Sox will utilize your standard nine starting position players, 12 pitchers, and four bench players to create their 25-man. We already figured out who those 12 pitchers would probably be, so now it's time to focus on the lineup and bench.
You can't figure out the bench until you know who is starting, and figuring out who is starting isn't the simplest task for one, outfield-shaped reason. This is what we know for sure, however.
- Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
- First Base: Mike Napoli
- Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
- Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts
- Third Base: Pablo Sandoval
- Left Field: Hanley Ramirez
Sandoval was signed to play third, while Hanley was signed with left field in mind. That means Bogaerts sticks at shortstop while he's young and (hypothetically) able, and we already knew entrenched incumbents Ortiz, Napoli, and Pedroia were safe at their positions. After that, things start to come into question.
Christian Vazquez is likely the starting backstop, with Ryan Hanigan the backup. The exact nature of their arrangement is unknown, however. You could argue that Hanigan should only be getting starts against lefties, as he he's limited offensively but has far more success against southpaws than right-handers in his career. You could also argue it could be more like a 60/40 split with Vazquez grabbing the majority side, as it's not as if Vazquez is an elite bat behind the plate or anything. Plus, Vazquez isn't necessarily being groomed to start, so it's not as if he needs to be tested over 120 or more starts: he'll end up as Blake Swihart's backup eventually if both stay in the organization.
Photo credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Either way, Vazquez is the starter for 2015, so that answers seven of nine positions, leaving us with just center field and right field. This could take awhile.
The Red Sox don't seem to be in a rush to trade Shane Victorino. They signed Rusney Castillo, who is major-league ready and 27, to a seven-year deal late last season. They have Mookie Betts, who is also big-league ready and could end up being the most valuable of the three in both the short and long term. All three are presumably good to go for 2015, but there are only two spots. The Red Sox have further confused the issue by saying they expect to figure out ways to get all three in the lineup consistently while also saying Betts is the team's best option to lead off.
The Red Sox could start the season with all three of them on the team. Castillo hasn't played anything approaching a full major-league season in his professional career -- Serie Nacional goes for just 90 games -- and hasn't played regularly since 2012. Victorino is coming off of back surgery, and even before those problems was a lock to miss time here and there with one injury or another. Betts is loaded with potential, but he's also unproven, and betting heavily on him only to see him falter in his first full effort -- as Bogaerts did a year ago -- would cause problems for the team. Let's remember, too, that Hanley, for all his talent, has averaged 124 games over the last three seasons. The Sox have plenty of reasons to harbor outfield depth for as long as possible, even if it confuses the idea of true starters for a bit.
The most likely arrangement is that Betts gets the most playing time of the three since he can fit in as the leadoff hitter, and the same fatigue/injury concerns do not surround him. Victorino mashes lefties, but all three of these players are right-handed hitters, which limits the obvious opportunities to insert him into the lineup. Castillo could end up playing the second-most, while Victorino, to both his benefit and Boston's, is a very active fourth outfielder who gets a few starts per week across the outfield (and maybe even an occasional DH day if Ortiz needs a breather), and gives them a fantastic depth option in case of an injury to any of the three starting outfielders.
If by midseason the Sox have a hole elsewhere and trading Victorino, a free agent at the end of the year, can fill it, then they should explore that. There is little reason to rush him off of the roster by Opening Day, however, not when the most reliable option after him for the fourth outfielder job is Daniel Nava. This brings us to the bench.
Let's talk about Joe Kelly
Lately, I've seen a lot of people praising Joe Kelly's game, even going so far as arguing he cannot be taken out of the rotation. Is that too much?
The Sox can only keep one of Nava or Allen Craig on the roster if Victorino is still around. Both can play first base, both are limited defensively in the outfield, and both have questions on offense. Nava's issue is that he can't hit lefties and is a stretch in right field, while Craig's 2013 foot injury bled into 2014, and raised questions about his future production at the plate. If Craig is healthy and can recapture his 2011-2013 form, in which he slugged .500 with a 136 OPS+ for the Cardinals, then he is a difference maker in the lineup. That's a huge if, however, not just because of the foot injury and any lingering issues from it, but also because Craig will be 30 in 2015, and wasn't the swiftest, most athletic of outfielders even before destroying his foot.
Nava is out of options, so if the Sox want to keep Victorino and Craig, they need to move Nava. If they want to protect Nava, who is under team control for three more years and is just now entering arbitration eligibility, they need to trade either Craig or Victorino. The composition of the rest of the bench is not changed by whichever arrangement the Red Sox end up with, at least, so just know two of these three will remain by Opening Day, and that they'll be joined on the bench by Ryan Hanigan.
After that, the last spot on the roster has to be Brock Holt's. Holt has one option left, but he's the only player in the system who is already on the 40-man roster and could fill in at shortstop if necessary -- no, Hanley does not count. Holt has experience at third, he can play the outfield in an emergency, and his bat, while not stellar, certainly does the trick in his role as a utility player.
So, we end up with a lineup that on most days, starting from behind the plate, features Vazquez, Napoli, Pedroia, Sandoval, Bogaerts, Ramirez, Castillo, Betts, and Ortiz. The bench will include Hanigan and Holt for sure, and then two of Nava, Victorino, and Craig. Travis Shaw, Garin Cecchini, Sean Coyle, Bryce Brentz, Blake Swihart, and Jackie Bradley Jr. round out the rest of the 40-man roster, with all of them presumably beginning the year at Triple-A Pawtucket. Not all of that depth will be ready on Opening Day, of course, but there are viable options there, should a need arise.