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Projecting the Opening Day roster

I’d say Version 1.0, but that would be a promise for more versions and I’m too weak to make that kind of commitment.

Boston Red Sox Photo Day Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Today is a great day despite the fact that up here in Maine, at least, we are experiencing a roughly 30-degree drop in temperature from last year. You see, today the Red Sox will be playing baseball on television. In color! They’ll be taking on college players in a doubleheader against Northeastern and Boston College, and the players are very obviously not ready for baseball yet. The start of spring training features a lot of pitchers getting loose and hitters without timing. Still, it’s baseball, and in a battle between baseball and not baseball, baseball will always win.

With the start of games being played on our televisions (or laptops or phones. It is 2018 after all), it means that we are getting legitimately close to real baseball starting. It’s a little over a month away, to be inexact. Spring training is ramping up and it’s time to start thinking about the end of March and Opening Day. That means it’s time to start thinking about the Opening Day roster. This is just my longwinded way of saying we’re going to do a roster projection today. Cool? Cool.

Catcher (3)

Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart

This is one of the most interesting positional groups to watch in camp this year, as the team is going to try to keep all three players if they can but there’s at least some chance a battle will emerge between Leon and Swihart. The latter is least likely to get significant time behind the plate, but expect Boston to try and develop him as a super utility player. My guess is that they’ll find a way to keep all three, because there is value here with each of them. Vazquez, obviously, should be the catcher who receives the most playing time at the start of the year. Leon is a more veteran presence with strong defense, weird offensive flashes and a good rapport with the pitching staff. And Swihart is still the one in this group with the highest ceiling, though at this point he likely has the lowest floor as well.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Infielder (6)

Hanley Ramirez, Eduardo Nuñez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Mitch Moreland, Brock Holt

There is no debate among the first five names on this list, as they will all be on the Opening Day roster assuming health. I suppose there is at least a small chance there could be a trade involving Ramirez, but I would not bet more than one single penny on that happening. The last spot, though, is wildly fascinating and I went back and forth a bunch of times. The argument against Holt is fairly simple. He was quite bad last year and for all his defensive versatility he’s not particularly good at any spot. This is an infield that could use some more defense behind it, which would be where Deven Marrero shines. Furthermore, while Marrero is out of options and would need to be traded or cut if he doesn’t make the roster, Holt could be demoted to Pawtucket. In the end, though, I think this is still Holt’s job to lose. The biggest differentiating factor to me is Holt’s ability to play outfield on a team without a ton of depth beyond the top four guys. Nuñez has some experience out there as well, but I haven’t heard anything from the Red Sox indicating a willingness to play him there. Plus, Holt’s struggles last year could be blamed on head injuries. I think this all comes down to how he looks in camp, and if they think he’s still capable of playing at his peak then they’ll make the roster. If not, Marrero will get the edge.

Note: It’s been noted that I should have mentioned Dustin Pedroia here, and it’s a fair point and an error on my part. Pedroia will surely play a big role on the roster in 2018, but he’s going to start the year on the disabled list.

Outfield (4)

Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez

I mean, duh, right?

Starting Pitchers (5)

Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Brian Johnson

As with the infield, most of this is a no-brainer as long as they make it out of camp healthy. The top four pitchers are part of Boston’s 2018 plans for the long haul. The fifth spot is up for grabs, though there is a clear front-runner in Steven Wright. If he is available to pitch the first turn through the rotation he will be the fifth starter. However, there is still the possibility of a suspension for the knuckleballer after a domestic dispute over the winter, plus he is still recovering from last year’s knee injury. Between those two things I’d say there’s a decent chance he doesn’t start the year on the roster. That would leave the fifth spot open as a battle between Johnson and Hector Velazquez, with the former winning out due to a lack of minor-league options. If Wright does make the roster, Johnson would slide into the bullpen. I should also mention that the Red Sox will not be able to go with a short rotation to start the year as their schedule includes six straight games at the onset. If they could have gone with a four-man rotation I assume they would have to alleviate the roster crunch on the positions player side of things.

Note: It’s been noted that I should have mentioned Eduardo Rodriguez here, and it’s a fair point and an error on my part. Rodriguez will surely play a big role on the roster in 2018, but he’s going to start the year on the disabled list.

Relief Pitchers (7)

Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Robby Scott, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman

For now, this is a little more straight-forward than I was expecting. With Johnson in the projected rotation, Scott is a sure thing to make the roster (I’d expect him to be on the roster either way, though I’ve seen some disagreement on that) as the only legitimate left-handed option for the Opening Day bullpen. Beyond that, you’ll notice the lack of Tyler Thornburg here. The team hasn’t indicated a plan for the righty either way, but I’m going to assume he’ll start the year on the disabled list because when dealing with major pitcher injuries it’s always better to err on the side of conservatism. Finally, if Johnson were to make his way back into the bullpen I imagine Workman would be the odd man out with his one remaining minor-league option.

So, what did I get wrong, and why was it the Brock Holt vs. Deven Marrero part of this. (Seriously, I’ve changed this about 27 times since yesterday.)