It wasn't all that long ago that the Red Sox' Opening Day roster seemed very nearly set in stone. Sure, there were some uncertainties here and there, but they were only uncertain by the strictest of definitions. Rusney Castillo might make the roster, for instance, if the Red Sox find some unexpected trade partner in the next couple weeks, but it's probably not going to happen.
Then came the injuries. Christian Vazquez is down, perhaps for the long haul, and Koji Uehara is probably going to miss Opening Day as well. And suddenly there's actual positional battles and questions to be answered. So let's fill in the blanks, assuming there's no more bad luck coming Boston's way.
Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Pablo Sandoval
Brock Holt, Allen Craig
Let's start simple. There's no surprises here. Holt cemented his position as the super sub by showcasing his versatility in 2014 while Allen Craig will probably be seeing more time at first base than in left field.
Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino
John Farrell has been pretty consistent in saying Shane Victorino is the right fielder if healthy, and with Victorino having made consistent starts since his early layoff, there's little reason to believe he's not. If he struggles, it will only be a matter of time before Rusney Castillo gets the call, but at least to start the year it's Victorino in Fenway, Castillo in McCoy.
The interesting question is how center field shakes out when Mookie Betts needs a day off. Does Daniel Nava play right field, with Victorino moving to center? Or does Brock Holt jump into the outfield like he did at times last year. It's crazy to think that Holt might be manning center while Jackie Bradley Jr. is down in Pawtucket, but these are the sacrifices you make to roster size and talent retention.
All catching, all the time
The Red Sox are smart not to rush Swihart
The acquisition of Sandy Leon should mean Blake Swihart will get plenty of time to develop in Pawtucket. The Red Sox will be thankful for that later.
All catching, all the time
First thing's first: it won't be Blake Swihart. That's the exciting option, but it comes with service time implications and, frankly, Swihart isn't ready yet. So let's move past that.
The Red Sox don't really have the time they'd want to properly evaluate the battle behind the plate between Leon and Quintero. The latter was given limited at bats in the early weeks of spring when the Red Sox didn't think they'd need him come April. The former is newly arrived from Washington, leaving John Farrell with only scouting reports to go on.
That means the decision will come down to little more than the fact that Sandy Leon is already on the 40-man roster. The Red Sox will try to keep as much depth in the system as possible as they wait for Swihart to mature or, if we're really lucky, for Vazquez to get healthy. It may turn out that they can't hold on to Quintero in the end, but they're a lot more likely to be able keep him than Leon, so he's the one who will get the 25-man spot.
Shocking, I know.
Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly*
This, too, is pretty obvious, excepting the small detail that Joe Kelly might not actually make the Opening Day roster. This is only if the Red Sox decide they want to play around with the disabled list, placing Kelly on the 15-day DL retroactive to late March so that he can be activated on April 12, which is the first day the Red Sox will actually need their fifth starter thanks to the strange tradition of scheduling a day off immediately after Opening Day.
In the event the Red Sox choose to go in this direction, it's likely they'll throw in another bullpen arm rather than let one of the exiled outfielders in Bradley or Castillo start the year with the big league team. if only to avoid jerking them back and forth between levels. In that case, it will likely be one of Tommy Layne and Heath Hembree getting the call, with Layne's strong spring getting the nod. Still, that spot is reserved for Kelly, and everyone knows it.
Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Anthony Varvaro, Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross, Matt Barnes
Koji Uehara will miss the beginning of the season, leaving the Red Sox without their closer. Not how you want a 2-year contract to start for a 40-year-old pitcher, but also not the most surprising turn of events. John Farrell has indicated that Edward Mujica will be the one to pick up the slack in the ninth, but it's going to be someone else who actually fills the roster spot.
That someone is likely Matt Barnes, whose transition to relief work seems pretty much locked in at this point. He looked solid there in the last days of 2014, and despite a high ERA has turned heads in shorter outings this spring. With Barnes having been passed by the likes of Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez, and with Brian Johnson not far behind in Pawtucket, this is Barnes' best chance to secure a spot in Fenway. And if he does head back down in a week or so when Uehara is ready to go, a permanent spot is likely not far away if Barnes produces. Bullpens have a lot of moving pieces, and the Red Sox are working with some injury-prone names besides. Don't be surprised if we see a lot more of him at Fenway this season.