We are now somehow only nine days away from Opening Day for the Red Sox (eight days from Opening Day for MLB), which seems hard to believe. I think the lack of spring training games is what is making this season seem like it’s coming out of nowhere, obviously along with, well, everything else in the world. Still, the lack of a real spring training schedule is making the way we look at the start of the season different as well. Typically, this close to the start of the season, we’d be knee deep in debates about who will play how much at every position.
This season is no different in terms of fights for playing time, because the Red Sox certainly have a handful of spots on the roster where there is no clear number one starter who will play 90+ percent of the games. The tough part for us is that the battle for that playing time is mainly taking place behind closed doors where the only people to see it are media way up in the press box. Even so, despite the relative lack of information on how everybody is playing in camp, let’s take a look at the playing time that’s up for grabs and figure out who should have the leg up.
Christian Vázquez is the starting catcher without anyone coming close to pushing him for time in that role, but who plays behind him is certainly up for grabs. Now, this isn’t a battle to make the roster like it appeared to be back in March since the rosters are going to carry 30 players to start the year. There are no guarantees, but my guess remains that they will carry both Kevin Plawecki and Jonathan Lucroy on that roster.
As far as who plays more, I would suspect they’ll probably play a similar amount, though Plawecki will get a higher percentage of time behind the plate with Lucroy playing a little bit of first base when needed as well. The real battle between these two will come in-season, as the roster goes down to 28 after two weeks and 26 two weeks after that. At some point in the first month, the team will likely cut one of these catchers loose.
Based on how the reporting has been coming out of camp, Lucroy seems to be the darling of the team and the beat, but I remain skeptical. Maybe the surgery he had on his back really will get him close to what he used to be at the plate, but the fact of the matter is that the former Brewer simply hasn’t been good at the plate since 2016 and his defensive numbers have dropped as well. Now, Plawecki isn’t some kind of world-beater with the bat either, but he at least provides a bit more stability behind the plate. This is close enough that I won’t get too worked up no matter who wins out, but if both are healthy when roster sizes reduce I think I’d pick Plawecki at this point, though I suspect Lucroy will win out.
This one seems pretty straight forward to start the year, but things will get very interesting at the cold corner as the year goes on. Boston decided to bring Mitch Moreland back for another go this summer, which makes sense as he has fit in so well with this club since coming here. On the field, though, he’s clearly in decline. That said, he still hits well against righties and it would seem his role will be to do just that. I suspect the leash will be a bit shorter, but at least to start it will be Moreland against righties with Michael Chavis getting the starts with lefties on the mound.
Where things become interesting is with Bobby Dalbec looming over things. And I mean that literally because, well, he’s a large human. The prospect is already on the 40-man roster and is on the player pool, so I’d suspect we’ll see him at some point this year. Camp was delayed a bit for him after a positive COVID test, so I could see that keeping him off the Opening Day roster, but the minute either Moreland or Chavis start to struggle, Dalbec could get the call and get a chance to show whether or not his power and contact skills will translate to the bigs.
To me, this is the most interesting position to watch on this entire roster. I mentioned Chavis as the short end of the platoon at first base, but my expectation is that he’ll be playing some second base when righties start as well. The question simply comes down to how much of that will happen with José Peraza in the mix as well. The former Red has had a rollercoaster of a career so far, with a contact-oriented approach that leads to fluky results giving him two above-average seasons and two well below-average ones.
When a lefty gets the start, the right side of the infield will be fairly easy to figure out with most days featuring Chavis at first (at least until Dalbec is up) and Peraza at second. With righties, I’m fascinated to see how the playing time is split between those two. I believe Chavis certainly has the higher upside with his power, but if he is not showing good contact skills Peraza could have an edge. There’s downside to his game at the plate too, to be fair, but he has more speed and better defense on his side. Even in a normal spring training performance in those games don’t mean a ton in terms of roster decisions, but this is one situations where I think the hot hand will be a real factor, and as I said at the top we just don’t have a good sense of whose hand is hot at the moment.
Back of the rotation
Obviously the elephant in the room that is the Red Sox roster is their rotation, as it is what will most likely hold this team back from really competing in 2020. Right now, it appears there are three spots all but locked down with Eduardo Rodriguez missing some time to start the year. Nathan Eovaldi is the de facto ace. Martín Pérez is the number two. Ryan Weber is the number three. That’s as bad as it sounds, and there are still two more spots to fill.
There are a ton of options here for the Red Sox, with the only problem being that none of them are all that good. I argued in favor of using a piggyback system to start the year, though there hasn’t really been an indication that this is an option being considered at the moment. Right now, it would appear that Brian Johnson has the inside track for one of the final two spots, with the fifth spot being more up in the air. That the team is close to signing Zack Godley makes things interesting, and if he does indeed sign I’d expect him to be the number five. Other options include Matt Hall, Chris Mazza and bullpen games, among others. It’s not great!
Generally speaking, there are always battles for the bullpen on every roster just because there are so many spots to fill. That is even more true this year with the expanded rosters to start the season. That being said, the Red Sox’s battles aren’t entirely clear. With Dariwnzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor likely to miss the start of the year along with Collin McHugh, the shoo-ins here would be: Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, Heath Hembree, Ryan Brasier, Austin Brice, and Colten Brewer. If we give Godley a spot in the rotation, that would leave three or four spots for Jeffrey Springs, Josh Osich, Matt Hall, Chris Mazza, Phillips Valdez, Mike Shawaryn, Robinson Leyer and Mike Kickham. My guess is that the four favorites would be Springs, Osich, Hall and Mazza, but that’s far from in stone.