Alex Cora has a hell of a task ahead of him in his first season as a Red Sox manager. Granted, he’s taking over a really talented roster that is coming off two consecutive division titles so it could be worse, but he has some tough decisions to make on a sort of weird roster that includes players that will be counted on for versatility. Obviously, we don’t know exactly what the roster will look like, much less what kind of injuries the team will face over the course of the season. With that being said, let’s try to figure out a baseline for how splitting up playing time could work out. This hypothetical takes place in a perfect world in which injuries do not exist, but even when those inevitable bangs and bruises do happen we can still look back at this as a depth chart of sorts and fill in the blanks from there. I’m also assuming that Deven Marrero makes the roster to start the year but loses his spot when Dustin Pedroia comes back. An unfair assumption? maybe! This is merely a very rough draft at how things could shake out for the Red Sox in 2018 as Cora tries to balance out his roster and find playing time and rest for everyone on the roster. I’ll go position-by-position and outline my thoughts, but here’s a quick snapshot of what I have jotted down.
Red Sox Playing Time
|Position||Player 1 (Games Started)||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4|
|Position||Player 1 (Games Started)||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4|
|C||Vazquez (110)||Leon (35)||Swihart (17)|
|1B||Moreland (80)||Ramirez (70)||Swihart (12)|
|2B||Pedroia (95)||Nuñez (62)||Marrero (5)|
|3B||Devers (135)||Nuñez (27)|
|SS||Bogaerts (145)||Nuñez (14)||Marrero (3)|
|LF||Benintendi (130)||Martinez (20)||Swihart (12)|
|CF||Bradley (140)||Benintendi (17)||Betts (5)|
|RF||Betts (150)||Martinez (12)|
|DH||Martinez (118)||Ramirez (25)||Nuñez (10)||Swihart (9)|
Starting behind the plate, this spot is fairly straight forward. I’m a believer that Christian Vazquez’ offense will stick around enough to give him a regular gig. I don’t believe Boston will lean on him like Kansas City has relied on Salvador Perez in recent years or anything, but a 110-game workload seems about right for a regular catcher on this roster. I also believe that Boston values Sandy Leon enough to give him the clear backup role, though I could see Blake Swihart closing the gap here if his defense looks legitimately improved over where it was in future years. At a certain point, though, it doesn’t really become worth it to carry Leon if you’re going to close-to-evenly split the playing time between him and Swihart.
This one was the toughest for me to figure out. When Mitch Moreland was originally brought back to the roster back in December, it was assumed that he and Hanley Ramirez would be in a platoon if/when the Red Sox did eventually bring in J.D. Martinez. Alex Cora, though, has said that Ramirez is the number three hitter, which would imply that they will lean fairly heavily on him. At the end of the day, I think Moreland’s defense along with the desire to keep Ramirez’ 2019 option from vesting will combine to give the former a slight edge in starts here, but I’m not incredibly confident in this projection. This also seems to be the position where it makes the most sense to get Swihart some playing time when he’s not behind the plate.
While I was a little unsure of how playing time would end up work out at first base, it’s really hard to say at second base. The big issue here, of course, is the health of Dustin Pedroia. We can’t say with confidence when he’ll return to the lineup, and we also can’t be sure how healthy he’ll be whenever he does return. It would make sense to try and rest him whenever he does return, though doing that with someone like Pedroia is easier said than done. I think they’ll get him to rest a fair amount once he does return and presumably that was a big reason they were willing to bring Eduardo Nuñez back into the fold. Nuñez is going to have to play all over the place to get his at bats this year, but the bulk of that time should come at the keystone position. I also gave Deven Marrero a handful of starts that would come in the time before Pedroia returned from injury.
This one is pretty straight forward, at least in terms of starts. There’s little reason to believe that Rafael Devers will do anything but get the bulk of the playing time here. I gave him 135 starts, which felt a little low but I could see the Red Sox getting him some extra rest in his first full-season of traveling through a major-league schedule. Eduardo Nuñez won’t be much of a help defensively, but he gives them a right-handed bat to face some tough lefties on nights they’d like to give Devers a breather. If the young infielder really proves to be a force in the lineup, I could very easily see him getting more than 135 starts, but it’s hard to be 100 percent confident in that at this point.
Once again, as will be the case for the rest of this, the starter at shortstop is clear. Xander Bogaerts is going to play nearly every day at shortstop barring injury. Really, this doesn’t get too complicated. Again, Nuñez won’t be a defensive star here in the handful of starts I gave him, but he’s a body and starting him here for 14 games won’t kill the team. Marrero also gets a few starts, again in Pedroia’s absence.
Andrew Benintendi was an interesting player to figure out, since J.D. Martinez’ outfield appearances will presumably come in left field. It seems certain that Benintendi will still get the bulk of the playing time here, of course, and 130 is no small number. I think people will be upset about how often I have Martinez here, but I think it’s time to start getting used to the fact that he’s going to be in the field. If he can get the hang of the wall fairly quickly, he will be fine in 20 games, with at least 15 of them hopefully coming at Fenway. This is another spot where Swihart should steal a handful of games worth of starts.
Jackie Bradley is going to play a lot this season, and it doesn’t make sense for him to play anywhere besides center field. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to play around with in reserve roles, but Benintendi should see most of those in games where Martinez shifts into left field. It also sounds like Cora will be willing to toss Betts into center field with Martinez in right in certain situations, which we’ll get to in just a second.
So, yeah, Martinez is probably going to get a few games in right in addition to the time he gets in front of the Monster. Don’t freak out too much, though, as Cora all but said it wouldn’t happen at Fenway. The Red Sox manager made it clear that he’ll take ballpark into effect whenever he writes out his defensive alignments, meaning Martinez should be playing in smaller right fields. Again, this is not the most ideal situation for the Red Sox, but it seems inevitable and also seems to be something they can survive.
Obviously, Martinez is going to get most of the time here. This is also the ideal place to get some hot bats into the lineup who don’t necessarily have positions, with Ramirez, Nuñez and Swihart getting time here as well. There’s probably an argument for guys like Bogaerts and Devers to get some time here on top of that to get them rest while keeping the bat in the lineup, but I don’t think that will be more than a couple times each if it happens at all.
Here’s my final tally for games started for everyone listed:
Christian Vazquez: 110
Sandy Leon: 35
Blake Swihart: 50
Mitch Moreland: 80
Hanley Ramirez: 95
Dustin Pedroia: 95
Eduardo Nuñez: 113
Deven Marrero: 8
Rafael Devers: 135
Xander Bogaerts: 145
Andrew Benintendi: 147
Jackie Bradley Jr.: 140
Mookie Betts: 155
J.D. Martinez: 150
Like I said at the top, this is obviously not how this is going to play out since we’re not factoring in injuries. However, this seems to me to be a reasonable plan to have heading into the season, giving or taking some games here and there and possibly shuffling in a handful of starts at DH for some of the everyday position players. So, what do you think? Where did I go wrong?