The Red Sox don’t have a perfect roster, which I don’t believe will be a controversial statement. If this was a perfect roster, this season wouldn’t have been nearly as stressful to this point and wouldn’t look nearly as nail-biting-inducing over the next two months. There are certainly holes on the roster, and in a perfect world they’d be more like the Astros than the Yankees. (That was a weird sentence to type.) That being said, they still have a good roster, and there is one thing they’ve prioritized that should let them maximize the roster moving forward. That would, of course, be versatility.
Prioritizing versatility certainly isn’t a new venture for the Red Sox, as it’s something they’ve been working on over the last few years. Obviously, Brock Holt is the face of that movement, and he’s certainly earned that title. The former Pirate can and has played every position on the diamond besides pitcher and catcher. The addition of Eduardo Nuñez also helps in this respect, as the former Yankee, Twin and Giant can play all over the infield and has some experience in the corner outfield spots as well. It’s not just a major-league idea, either, as they’ve tried to get Tzu-Wei Lin some work in the outfield to go with his ability to play all over the infield. Plus, speaking of the outfield, Boston would feel comfortable playing all three of their starting outfielders in any of the three outfield positions. Simply put, teams generally don’t have players that can move around this much without suffering greatly for it.
With the way things look right now, on the surface it appears the Red Sox could be looking at a roster crunch when Dustin Pedroia returns from the disabled list. Although they didn’t play on Wednesday night the Red Sox did release a lineup for the game, and it was as deep as any lineup we’ve seen from this team in some time. Adding Pedroia back to the mix obviously wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it would certainly make things a little more complicated.
This is where the versatility comes in. No, versatility won’t allow the Red Sox to sneak a tenth man into the lineup, but it would allow Boston to maximize their roster and allow for the best performance possible in the final months of the regular season and put them in the best position to succeed if they are able to make the postseason. Mostly by virtue of having guys like Nuñez and Holt on the roster, John Farrell will be able to get key players some rest down the stretch while also playing the hot hand. For people wondering how the Red Sox will work the lineup when Pedroia gets back, that is your answer. It will be a huge rotation involving essentially everyone on the roster based on scheduled days off and playing the hot hand. Or, at least, that’s how it should be. Farrell’s most important on-field job is to put his players in the best position to succeed, and he has a unique set of weapons to allow him to accomplish this goal.
As for the specifics of what will be done, it starts with getting some rest to some key players down the stretch. Pedroia should be back at some point, and there’s really no reason he should be playing more than five times a week when he does return. Knowing what we do of the veteran’s personality, getting him to sit a couple times a week won’t be easy, but that’s the job. Guys like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley may not be veterans with wear and tear, but getting them a day off or two here and there should only serve to help their performance. In addition to those kind of days off, it allows them to sit players when they go through extended slumps. In fact, we just saw an example of that with Andrew Benintendi. The rookie had been struggling mightily, and Farrell gave him a couple of full days off to get his head clear and get things reset. Benintendi was set to return last night, so it’s unclear how this has worked. This is a strategy that can be used for anyone else (outside of the catchers) on the roster without causing too much trouble.
Not only will it help the lineup, but it should help the pitching staff, too. No, it won’t help defensively, as both Holt and Nuñez are average-at-best (and that might be putting it kindly) at most spots they play. Still, most of their time will probably be spent in the infield and the Red Sox have the most flyball-heavy pitching staff in baseball. Their infield defense, while still important, matters less than every other team’s.
No, where it will help the pitching staff is keeping them fresh. Specifically, the Red Sox should be able to keep the bullpen fresh down the stretch. With all of the versatility in the lineup, it’ easier for Boston to carry a smaller bench than usual. Although this isn’t something they should make a habit of, there is only one more month until rosters expand so they can afford it for a bit when they need it. If the bullpen is taxed and they need a fresh arm to help the group, they can option a bat to bring that arm up and avoid losing one of their key bullpen pieces for ten days. With guys like Lin, Deven Marrero and Sam Travis all available in Pawtucket they can afford losing the last man on their bench for ten days since there is a similarly-talented replacement available.
The Red Sox are still going to live or die based on how their core plays. The fate of this team lies on the shoulders of their rotation and guys like Betts, Bogaerts, Ramirez and Benintendi, among others. That being said, the rest of the team will need to step up at times, too. Fortunately, Farrell has the arsenal of players to keep everyone fresh and able to contribute all year. Now, it’s up to him to properly deploy his weapons.