Spring training workouts officially begin on Wednesday, as long as the weather allows it. Apparently it’s raining down in Florida this morning, but as someone dealing with snow/sleet I’m finding it hard to feel bad for them. Whether they actually get full workouts in or not, baseball is here. It’s been a slow winter around the league and some of the game’s biggest stars are still unemployed, but the good news is the Red Sox are champions. It’s selfishly made this frustrating winter easier to handle. Now, we look ahead to 2019, and the Red Sox roster is mostly set. There are, however, a few battles to watch. With that in mind, and with the 2019 season in a way opening up today, let’s give our first projection of what the Opening Day roster could look like.
Christian Vázquez, Sandy León
The catching position is perhaps the most interesting to watch this spring. It’s all but certain the Red Sox will trade one of Vázquez, León and Swihart. We just aren’t sure which one it will be. Sean McAdam reported yesterday that the sense around the league is León being likely to stay. That means Vázquez and Swihart are the two favorites to be dealt. Vázquez probably has more trade value right now despite his woes at the plate in 2018. He’s still a better defensive catcher than Swihart, he showed improvement with the bat in the postseason, and it’s not as though Swihart has been a great hitter in his career. Despite that, I’m not sure trade value should be the driving factor here. The focus should be on fielding the best team, and Vázquez and León gives that. Swihart could be the best of this trio, but at this point the Red Sox seem to be going all-in on defense-over-everything at this position. Give Swihart his fresh start somewhere else and go with the glove-first approach. I think this is what they should do, and I think it is ultimately what they will do.
Mitch Moreland, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Steve Pearce, Eduardo Núñez, Brock Holt
This one is extremely straight-forward, barring injury of course. Assuming everyone makes it out of camp healthy, there’s really no debate or discussion necessary here. Exactly how Alex Cora splits up the playing time between these guys everywhere but shortstop will be fascinating, and maybe we can get some insight into that during camp. As far as who will make the roster, though, it’s set in stone.
Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez
If the infield is set-in-stone, the outfield is engraved in a stone sent from the heavens. This is probably the best group of outfielders in the game, and again if everyone gets through the month of March healthy they will be on the roster. Duh.
Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson
For all you counters out there, you may have noticed there are six names here. The first five names, like the previous two positional groups, are set in stone assuming health. The one thing that separates the rotation from the infield and outfield is that Alex Cora has already stated the team will start with a six-man rotation this year. If everyone is ready to go, Steven Wright would be the favorite for this spot. However, the knuckleballer is already worrying about his knee. The team is surely going to prioritize his consistent health this year over simply having him available on Opening Day. I think there’s a decent chance he starts the year on the injured list, and Brian Johnson then becomes the easy second choice for the spot starter role.
Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Colten Brewer
This is clearly the most interesting group to project on the roster, as other than the top two names it could go in a number of different directions. As mentioned above, Wright is expected to be a key member here, but it may not be at the start of the year. Thornburg, Workman and Hembree are all out of options, and unless they absolute blow up in spring training games they’ll get a shot at the beginning of the year. It’s the last spot that is the most interesting. Remember, Johnson will start the year in the rotation and they don’t have any position players with options, so they’ll likely go with a six-man bullpen at the start of the year. Hector Velazquez spent all of last year in the majors and it’s usually hard to see someone like that miss out on an Opening Day spot. Plus, with the smaller-than-usual bullpen the Red Sox may like his ability to go multiple innings. Still, he has options and other pitchers could step up. If someone has an incredible spring — like Bobby Poyner a year ago — I think they’ll be rewarded with this last spot. My prediction on who that would be is Brewer, but Poyner, Durbin Feltman, Travis Lakins or any of the minor-league signees are options as well. Of course, injuries can and likely will open up another spot or two between now and Opening Day.