For many teams, positional battles are a fact of life in spring training. For the Red Sox, they are a rare spectacle, almost an indication that the offseason was not entirely successful. Oh, sure, maybe there'll be a question of who fills in that last bullpen spot, but the Red Sox would rather not head into March without an obvious starter at the major positions. Their resources are just such that they shouldn't ever find themselves unable to fill a hole from November with somebody worth declaring a starter right off the bat.
Is this year any different? Well, actually, it might be. Sure, you and I can both name the starting lineup and rotation. Let's just do that right now to prove the point:
C: Blake Swihart
1B: Hanley Ramirez
2B: Dustin Pedroia
SS: Xander Bogaerts
3B: Pablo Sandoval
LF: Rusney Castillo
CF: Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF: Mookie Betts
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Clay Buchholz
SP: Joe Kelly
SP: Rick Porcello
SP: David Price
SP: Eduardo Rodriguez
And before you say anything, that rotation is ordered alphabetically because oh my God do I not want to have that conversation.
But I suppose we could at least slot Joe Kelly fifth, because John Farrell has done so for us and, in the process, brought us one of those rare positional battles of note. Via WEEI, his comments on the bullpen and rotation from Thursday:
"There's probably a couple of spots open," Farrell said [of the bullpen]. "Are we completely solidified on the left side? Who's going to be the guy that gives us multiple inning capability, particularly earlier in the year when you're going to go to that multi-inning guy a little bit more than you might come midseason. And are we set with the five guys in our rotation? Joe Kelly certainly has the lead on that fifth spot but we can't ever take for granted that injury, performance, might cause us to make decisions."
There are, after all, plenty of candidates for the spot. Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Roenis Elias could each force their way into the conversation, and even Steven Wright might have a say before all is said and done. And this doesn't only go for Kelly, either. As noted by Peter Abraham at the Globe:
The approach to Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval also has shifted. Unlike last season, team officials closely monitored the players' physical condition over the winter and insisted both report in better shape.
The Sox also won't follow Ramirez and Sandoval over a cliff as they did over the first four months of last season. The belief is that both players will improve, but Farrell has indicated he will make lineup changes if they don't.
Look, I won't lie, it's a bit disingenuous to call these positional battles. I'd be willing to put money that all three of those players--Kelly, Sandoval, and Ramirez--head into the season as starters at their respective positions even if they really bomb in spring.
But the message, at least, seems clear: the pressure is on. Having gone big on the likes of Price and Kimbrel, this Red Sox team is not going to be content with another season of mediocrity. Do you want to start 25 games this season, Henry Owens? Do you want 400+ at bats, Travis Shaw? (Or Brock Holt, for that matter.) Here's your chance. Put the pressure on in spring. Make every talking head in Boston shout your name from the rooftops in March and, if things aren't going well for Kelly or Ramirez, or Sandoval a few weeks into the season, the Red Sox will be all that much quicker to look to you to save them.
Whether those potential saviors will prove up to the task? Another story entirely. But one that can hardly be worse than that told by Sandoval and Ramirez in 2015. It's not hard to top historically bad.