As of right now, the Red Sox really only have three areas on which to focus for the rest of the offseason after adding (or, more accurately, bringing back) Steve Pearce for another bat off the bench. Now, they need to address the bullpen with at least one but preferably two relievers. They also need to fill the last spot in their rotation, whether that mean they bring back Nathan Eovaldi or go in a different direction. Finally, they no longer really have room to carry all three of the catchers currently on the roster, and they need to figure out who to cut loose and how to actually do it. I suspect that final move won’t come until later, but it’s certainly one of the items on the to-do list. As we look forward to the 2019 season, however, one other position stands out as a potentially major question mark: Second base.
The reason the Red Sox may need to start questioning whether or not they have enough depth at second base is also the reason they aren’t going to go out and look at any of the bigger names at the position. That, of course, is Dustin Pedroia. The question marks with regards to Pedroia are obvious and they come down to health. After essentially missing all of 2018 and fighting this knee injury for a few years running now, it’s anyone’s guess how much — never mind how well — he’ll be able to play. The team is expecting him to be their leadoff man on Opening Day (but then move down in the lineup after that), but is it really fair for that to be the plan at this point? And, probably more importantly, do they have enough of a contingency?
Well, to address the first question, we have to play doctor which I will freely admit is far from my specialty. All we know at this point is that Pedroia is feeling better and that the team is expecting him to be ready. There was some speculation that he’d need some surgery to clean up the knee again this winter, but Dave Dombrowski said his second baseman wouldn’t be going back under the knife. Of course, after the 2017 season Dombrowski also said they’d have to watch this knee for the rest of Pedroia’s career. All we can do at this point is take the team at its word and expect the veteran to be ready for the start of the year, but it’s more than legitimate to worry about the possibility that things go awry.
With that in mind, let’s quickly run through the depth options at the position.
- Brock Holt is easily the number one option among those currently on the roster. He is coming off the best year of his career, and while he is not great defensively at the position he’s certainly not bad either. The big issue with Holt is that he’s never proven he can hold up through a full season.
- Eduardo Núñez played plenty of second base last year, but we all know how that went. I expect Núñez to be better at the plate than he was in 2018, but after what we saw from him defensively at that position he shouldn’t be at second base in anything other than an emergency. Hopefully.
- Marco Hernandez is probably the most exciting depth option insofar as one exists, as he seemed like he had a legitimate chance to be a second-division starter when he was coming up. He’s been fighting shoulder injuries for a couple years, however, and those can be tough to recover from. He’s at least as much of a question as Pedroia.
- Tzu-Wei Lin is the safest option that is likely to start the year in the minors. Although he’s a natural second baseman, he certainly has the skillset to play well at the keystone position as well. The ceiling isn’t huge, but he’s shown enough with the bat to be seen as a solid enough depth option even if it’s not exciting.
- Blake Swihart may still be billed as a super utility player, and if that’s the case he could see some time at second base. I’m not overly excited about it, but it’s a possibility.
- Similarly, Michael Chavis is still talked about as someone who could profile at second base. Although he’s spent the majority of his professional career at third base, there’s a chance he could move here. From the little I’ve seen of him in person, I’m not very optimistic, but the possibility exists.
- Chad De La Guerra is the break-in-case-of-emergency option.
So, yeah. That’s what they have now. Of course, they could also look at the free agent pool for players that could be added to the Triple-A roster for depth a la Brandon Phillips late last year. There’s a long list of minor-league free agents — perhaps my favorite was Dilson Herrera, but he signed with the Mets on Thursday — though none are going to be all that exciting. Still, this lack of surefire depth is why some were upset to see Esteban Quiroz traded last week. He was another similar piece of second base depth. I understand the concern, but I also don’t think it hurts too much. They can find another Quiroz on the market, and if they needed Quiroz to save the season at second base things probably were beyond saving anyway. If they saw something they really liked in Colten Brewer, it’s an easily defendable deal.
Ultimately, depth aside, this still comes down to Pedroia. If he gets hurt again then the Red Sox are probably going to be in trouble. If he stays healthy, I don’t see him being bad enough that it’ll be detrimental. At this point, he’s probably still something around a league-average bat, and even with some expected regression defensively he’s likely at least average there as well. The toughest part will be getting him to take a slightly smaller role than he’s used to, but if anyone can get him on board it’s Alex Cora. The ideal scenario is something like a 65/35 split with Pedroia and Holt at the position, and that seems realistic.
So, could the Red Sox use more at second base? Sure they could. There are legitimate health questions at the top of the depth chart, and as you move down the list there are more and more questions. Adding someone else to the major-league roster at this point to help with the position is unrealistic, but adding another piece of depth to the heap certainly wouldn’t hurt.