The regular season is over. At some point in the dead of winter, regardless of what happens this October, it’s going to hit me just how incredible these past six months have been. We may (probably?) never see anything like this ever again as Red Sox fans. For now, that’s not the focus and nor should it be — fans are saying it and players are saying it as well — but at some point it’ll hit me. But we push on, as we say, into October when the real fun begins. For the most part, we know what the Red Sox playoff roster is going to look like, and we’ve had this discussion a few times already since it’s been clear Boston would avoid the Wildcard Game. Now, there is no more audition time. We have all of the data we could possibly gather, and now it’s just up to the coaching staff and front office to decide on the best combination of players for a deep run. (Obviously they can make changes with injuries during rounds and can make any changes they want between rounds, for whatever that may be worth.) The way I see it there are three spots up for grabs. Let’s take a look at the group as a whole.
Sandy León, Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Blake Swihart, Steve Pearce, Brock Holt, Eduardo Núñez
Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Ryan Brasier, Steven Wright
Okay, so that’s 22 players right there, with 13 position players and nine pitchers. Alex Cora hasn’t given too much away in terms of who he is going to carry, but he did confirm that they are almost certainly going to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers. With the smaller rotation, that makes sense. In terms of these locks, there’s really not much to say here. There is still some question about how much León will play behind the plate — I’d expect him to get every start — as well as how playing time will be split at first, second and third base. We know the names, though, and that’s the most important part. Now, the last three spots are where things get interesting.
Final Position Player Spot
Who it could be: Christian Vazquez, Tzu-Wei Lin
Who I would pick: Tzu-Wei Lin
Who I think they’ll pick: Christian Vazquez
This is a pretty simple battle between two players. The only other position players on the active roster who are not listed either here or with the locks are Sam Travis and Brandon Phillips and...well, yeah...they’re not making the playoff roster. I get the argument against carrying Lin. He’s redundant with Holt and Núñez if that’s your bench, as all three are primarily infielders whose value largely comes from an ability to play multiple positions. However, Lin can play outfield (so can Holt, but the latter may be starting some games in the infield) and he’s also the best runner that isn’t locked into a starting spot. Cora has said he trusts Swihart as a pinch runner, and that’s fine. Swihart is a good athlete. But Lin is better and he adds more defensive value than anyone else on the bench as well. Defense and baserunning aren’t the sexiest points of value, but they matter.
As I said, however, I fully expect this final spot to go to Christian Vazquez. The argument for the Red Sox is pretty simple. They’ve carried three catchers all year when all three have been healthy, and Swihart is more than just a catcher. The versatility of the latter allows them to carry that third backstop without losing much elsewhere on the roster. It also allows them to be more aggressive in pinch hitting for León earlier in games and still having a backup catcher on the roster. My counterargument would be that worrying about an injury to Swihart after replacing León is counterproductive as it’s unlikely and changes can be made to the roster the next day if the unlikely does occur. Furthermore, if you do pinch hit for León early on you either insert Christian Vazquez into the lineup — and that’s not much of an upgrade — or you lose Swihart from that pinch runner role mentioned above. Vazquez has played a bunch down the stretch, and they’ve talked enough about how much they like the three-catcher set-up that I expect this to happen, but I wouldn’t go this route.
Final Two Bullpen Spots
Who it could be: Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly, Brandon Workman, Bobby Poyner, Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson, Drew Pomeranz
Who I would pick: Heath Hembree and Hector Velazquez
Who I think they’ll pick: Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly
So, I have no idea what is going to happen here. I’m pretty confident with both my pick and my prediction for their pick on the position player side, but I have zero confidence in either in this. In fact, if you ask me again tomorrow morning there’s a chance I’ll have two different names for both sections. This is just such a jumble of arms who have struggled of late or lack the experience to participate in October. In fact, just a couple weeks ago I said on the ol’ Twitter Machine that I couldn’t see Hembree on the playoff roster. Now, I have him on mine. He’s looked better at the end of the month, and he’s been a trusted arm all year. Granted, I don’t want him in any super high-leverage spots in October, but that’s the case for everyone on this list. Because he’s been one of Cora’s favorites all year I have him on my predicted roster too, but again, I don’t feel great about it.
The final spot I get away from my prediction, and it’s also the first time I’ve even really considered going in this direction. I picked Velazquez, which seems crazy to me even though I’m the one who made the pick. The righty does not have overpowering stuff and seems like a disaster waiting to happen every time he takes the mound. Except, well, he gets results. Like Hembree, this is not a selection for high-leverage spots. Instead, Velazquez would be something of a mop-up guy in blowouts to preserve other arms for closer games. Do you really need that guy in the postseason? I’m not sure! But I feel better about Velazquez at this moment in time than anyone else on that list above.
As for my prediction for the Red Sox, I went with Kelly over Workman, but it was very close. Ultimately, I gave the edge to the guy who has been on the roster all year since both have been struggling a bit lately. Again, I don’t feel great about this. If we’re being honest, I have no idea what they’re going to decide.