The Red Sox are less than two weeks from the start of the season out in Seattle. Spring training has been a bit of a struggle so far, but there have still been some positives and this time is just for guys to get into game shape anyway. Still, there are some decisions that need to be made between now and Opening Day regarding the roster construction. Back at the start of camp, I made my initial roster projection for the start of the regular season. To be honest, not a ton has changed since then, with the most notable piece of news being Steven Wright’s 80-game suspension. We’ve also seen pretty much every reliever struggle. A lot of the roster is already known assuming health, but let’s take a second crack at this with a special look at the question marks that remain.
Christian Vázquez, Sandy León
I haven’t made any changes here, though don’t mistake that for any sense of confidence that this is actually how it will play out. It seems as though everyone on the beat who is projecting things right now seem to have Blake Swihart beating out León for that backup role. That probably means something and I may very well end up looking foolish for not following suit. I still can’t get over just how highly the pitching staff speaks of León, though, and I find it hard to believe the Red Sox aren’t going to put significant stock in that. Whether or not you or I agree with it being a difference-making quality is a different discussion. Given the rest of the lineup potentially being potent in every other spot, I can see the Red Sox basically overlooking offense behind the plate and focusing on defense. Swihart has made strides with his defense, but he’s still not León. Ultimately, I think this probably comes down to what they think of Vázquez. If they truly believe he’s their starting catcher for the foreseeable future, they can feel more comfortable giving up the better long-term player in Swihart. If not, they may be wary. Either way, I’m sticking with my prediction I’ve had all spring, but again I don’t feel great about it.
Mitch Moreland, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Brock Holt, Steve Pearce, Eduardo Núñez
Again, no changes here, which isn’t a big surprise. The Red Sox infield is basically set in stone assuming health. Therein lies the intrigue, though. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe tweeted on Saturday that there may be some uncertainty as to whether or not Pedroia will be ready to go to start the year. I’m still including him here because there doesn’t seem to be any indication there’s a better chance than not he’ll start the year on the injured list, but it’s obviously something worth noting. Speier notes that, if Pedroia does miss the start of the year, he won’t be replaced by someone like Tzu-Wei Lin. Instead, they’ll likely carry an extra pitcher. Having that extra pitching depth to start the year could be extra incentive to delay Pedroia’s debut, but I’m going to wait for a little more before I predict that actually happens.
Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez
No changes. Duh.
Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson
Once again, no changes but also once again I’m less sure about this than I was at the start of camp. The top five are obviously set in stone. That is going to be the rotation all year as long as everyone is healthy. They are starting the year with a six-man rotation, though, and that sixth spot isn’t as clear as it once was. I think Johnson is still in the driver’s seat strictly because he’s out of options. I can’t quite see the team giving up on him quite yet. That being said, he’s had a brutal spring and has been incredibly hittable all camp long. The good news for him is that there aren’t any other obvious candidates. Hector Velázquez would be the other one, and he’s arguably been worse than Johnson. Mike Shawaryn could be another option, and he’s looked solid this spring. Again, though, I think they’ll lean towards preserving depth at the start of the year.
Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Marcus Walden
We have a change! In my first projection I had Colten Brewer in that final bullpen spot, but he’s had a bit of a rough spring. To be fair, he has shown some solid stuff and I’m not sure the results are as discouraging as they may appear (6.00 ERA with seven strikeouts and five walks in six innings). That being said, he hasn’t really stood out and with all of the options for this last bullpen spot I think someone has to stand out. More importantly than that, though, is potential for length. With the six-man rotation, the bullpen will be down a man. That, combined with a chance they’ll be limiting the rotation a bit in their first couple starts, could call for a more traditional long man. Velázquez would be the obvious candidate after serving in that role all of last year, but as I mentioned above he’s been dreadful this spring. Walden has been solid and has served as a swingman for a couple of years now. He’s not the most exciting name, but he’s earned his second consecutive Opening Day roster spot to this point. If Pedroia starts the year on the IL and they carry an extra pitcher, I’ll say it’s between Brewer and Bobby Poyner. I’d love to say guys like Darwinzon Hernández and even Jenrry Mejia are involved, but I’d be surprised if they get pushed that much.