Even just a week into spring training (the games, at least), the Red Sox roster is pretty much set. Obviously, injuries can always change things (knock on wood!) but there aren’t many intriguing battles to watch this spring. There is likely going to be an open spot in the back of the rotation if Steven Wright can make his way back from his knee injury in time, and Alex Cora is not under the impression that he’ll be able to do so. There’s also a few different roads the Red Sox could take with their final few bullpen spots, but as always the edge in both of those “battles” will lean towards the players without options as holding on to as much pitching depth as possible is a key for any successful team. However, on the position player side of things, there are some questions about who will occupy the final two spots on the bench. Right now, it appears to be a battle between Brock Holt, Deven Marrero and Blake Swihart with one of them being left out in the cold.
There are a few different ways this can go, of course, but as of this writing it would be surprising if Swihart wasn’t a part of the roster on Opening Day, leaving this is what is essentially a two-man battle for one spot on the bench. Personally, as someone with zero (0) inside information and who is generally kind of a numbskull, I have gone back and forth a whole bunch of this but keep ending up back with Holt as the favorite. That being said, as I ponder the issue more and think about Dustin Pedroia’s knee, I am talking myself into Marrero.
Pedroia, of course, is likely not going to be in a battle for a bench spot at all in 2018, but he is going to start the year on the disabled list. The veteran underwent knee surgery at the start of the offseason and he won’t be fully recovered by the time the team travels to Tampa Bay to start their season on March 29. Reports indicate that he and the team are happy with his progression to this point, but given his history and age there’s no guaranteed return date at this point. Furthermore, even after he does come back there’s always the chance he re-aggravates the knee or hurts something else. This is something we simply cannot know, but the team can at least have a more informed opinion on the likelihood of either of these possibilities.
If the team doesn’t feel he will return as quickly as we are hoping for right now — somewhere in late-April or early-May — then there will be ripple effects. Eduardo Nuñez will be starting at second base in Pedroia’s absence, but the hope if for him to turn into a super utility guy for most of the season. I know, his defense isn’t great anywhere, but he’s a better overall player than the other bench options and would be a valuable asset to get rest for everyone around the diamond. In this scenario, things get awfully thin for the Red Sox if there is any reason for negativity around the health of Pedroia. With Nuñez as an everyday starter and everyone competing for a bench spot, keeping Marrero around would likely be the right play if for no other reason than to keep as many bodies as possible. Holt, of course, could be optioned to Pawtucket while Marrero would have to be exposed to waivers.
If the team does feel that Pedroia’s knee surgery will be successful and keep him healthy all year without any significant set backs on his road back, then the bench suddenly becomes a lot deeper with Nuñez. In this scenario, Nuñez and Holt become a bit redundant as (theoretically) bat-first utility players who can play all over the field. Holt’s ability to play the outfield would seemingly give him an edge, but the Red Sox could have faith in both Nuñez and Swihart out there in a pinch and of course have J.D. Martinez if needed as well. Swihart and Nuñez become the bat-first utility options, and Marrero would be the defensive replacement who could prove very valuable with Boston’s starting infield.
At the end of the day, I still think the Red Sox are going to enter the season with Brock Holt on their bench even if everyone is healthy. I just can’t envision them optioning him after he’s been around for so long. Still, I’ve convinced myself that Marrero is the right choice, and I know I’ve done this much later than most you. This started as a post simply about how Pedroia’s injury and the different roads it could take could affect the decision at the end of the bench. Every road I took ended with Marrero being the last man standing. It wasn’t where I expected to end up, but here we are.