Opening Day is not less than a week away, but we still aren’t sure what the Red Sox bullpen is going to look like. The rest of the roster is more or less clear — the catching situation isn’t settled yet, though Sandy León has been brought up in trade talks — but the biggest weakness on the roster is also the most incomplete as spring training comes to a close. Prior to Thursday’s game, Alex Cora discussed the battle for bullpen spots and kind of threw everyone for a loop. In his talks with the media, he mentioned that there are three spots up for grabs as of now, one more than most (myself included) had figured).
Alex Cora says there are three spots up for grabs in Red Sox bullpen— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) March 21, 2019
The Red Sox, as we learned after it was announced Dustin Pedroia would begin the year on the injured list, will be going with an eight-man bullpen to start the season. As far as I can tell, they are still planning on having one of those eight men make a start over the first six days of the season. If we are to take Cora at his word — and we have no reason not to — then one of the pitchers most had assumed was a lock is not as safe as we thought. In my estimation, the following six players were locks:
- Matt Barnes
- Ryan Brasier
- Brian Johnson
- Tyler Thornburg
- Brandon Workman
- Heath Hembree
The first two listed there are locks because, well, they’re the top two arms in the bullpen. The other four are here because they are out of minor-league options and there aren’t any options clearly better than them. You could certainly make the argument the best version of this Red Sox bullpen doesn’t have all of them in it, but the team generally leans towards hoarding depth at the start of a season.
If all them were actually locks, though, that would obviously leave only two open spots, not the three Cora hinted at. So, one of two things is possible. First, maybe Brasier won’t be ready for Opening Day. The righty was slowed down by a toe infection early this spring and he’s only made one appearance this spring. There hasn’t been any indication him missing Opening Day is a possibility, but he’s running out of time to get ramped up. The other, probably more likely, possibility is that one of the out-of-options guys above isn’t the lock we thought he was.
So, who else is competing for a spot? Here are the names still in major-league camp, along with Jenrry Mejia who was mentioned by Cora as the only pitcher from minor-league camp with a legitimate shot at breaking camp with the team.
- Colten Brewer
- Darwinzon Hernandez
- Bobby Poyner
- Hector Velazquez
- Marcus Walden
I still tend to think the four out-of-options guys are good bets to make the Opening Day roster, but Cora could very well be trying to light a fire under them and get them to step it up. Mejia being specifically mentioned by the manager would seem to bode well for him, but unless he has an opt-out at the end of camp (which I’d be surprised by since he didn’t get a major-league camp invite) I don’t think he’ll make the cut. My guess is still the six guys listed up top along with Poyner and Walden. Nothing is clear here, though, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation.