If you’ve been reading along this season, and/or listening to our podcasts, you’re probably aware I have just about had it with the three-man bench. I hate it aesthetically, as it leads to fewer chances to make substitutions later in the game, and I also hate it for a team that is getting good starting pitching but poor performances from the bottom portion of their lineup. So I was curious what the rest of the staff felt and whether or not I was alone in my ire toward this roster set up. That was the topic of this week’s roundtable, in which I asked just for general feelings on the three-man bench and when the Red Sox should move on from it, if at all.
I haven’t been the biggest fan of the three-man bench, mostly because having an extra bullpen arm hasn’t been entirely necessary thus far. There just haven’t been many unusually short starts or bullpen days that have tired out the Sox’ arms. Austin Brice hasn’t been good and has been used sparingly anyway, and one of Brice, Phillips Valdez, or Josh Taylor seems expendable. However, with the recent injuries to Enrique Hernández and Christian Arroyo, having a four-man bench will be quite difficult. The best time to switch to the four-man bench will be when the team is healthy and ready to call up Jarren Duran. Having Duran (although he’ll likely be starting most often), Arroyo, Kevin Plawecki, and Franchy Cordero on the bench will give Alex Cora great backup options for rest days and pinch-hitting opportunities.
The three man bench should be abandoned ASAP for a four or five-man bench that can better serve the needs of the team. The relief pitching strategy of LOOGY and ROOGY pitchers is on the way out — partially due to the new three-batter minimum — and it’s time to just lean the other way and adopt a larger bench. What can that get you? Well, as much as we all loved Brock Holt, one guy shouldn’t be the make-or-break of the bench.
Have someone who can cover shortstop. Have someone who can cover center field. Have a guy who can run. Have a guy who can catch anything near third or first base with a strong arm. Have a guy who can mash a certain platoon split. The Red Sox, and other teams, often struggle with the bottom of the lineup. Being able to swap though those position with the bench at key moments would be a huge boon.
Obviously all the guys I described can’t have a bench spot, some will fill multiple roles, but no one will be asked to be a super utility player who is also the only guy off the bench. He’ll be part of a bench, with multiple role players.
I’ve been begging for another at on the bench since the beginning of the season. There have been times where the lower leverage relievers would not pitch for three, four, or even more days. Also, that extra bat off the bench would really help, especially with Cordero and Dalbec struggling at the plate. Sure, I’ve been a bit out on Chavis for about a year and a half, but give me more late innings at bats from him than Cordero.
I don’t really have a strong opinion on the size of the bench, but for a team that seemed to value versatility and depth during the offseason, it would make sense for the Red Sox to have at least one more position player on the roster. I think that will become even more imperative if some of the guys without a single solidified position continue to struggle at the plate, as having more flexibility could help mitigate those effects and also create space for the prospects the Red Sox should be trying to fit into the mix down the stretch. Ideally, if they move to a four-man bench, I’d like to see it consist of a backup catcher, at least one true outfielder and then maybe two guys like Enrique Hernández or Michael Chavis who can play multiple spots in a pinch.
It’s time to kick the three-man bench to the curb. At this point in the season, Alex Cora’s Red Sox have proven themselves to be a solid team with a rotation that continues to perform admirably. Five innings or more is the expectation and the result more often than not these days and after last year that feels like an amazing luxury. What it also tells me is that there is no reason to have the extra guy in the bullpen at this point. The early-season success of the rotation has left the bullpen in fantastic shape.
In order to keep the league’s highest-scoring offense healthy and productive Cora will need to bolster the ranks and give guys the rest they need. With Christian Arroyo and Enrique Hernández on the IL that leaves the current bench as Kevin Plawecki, Jonathan Araúz, and Michael Chavis. Marwin Gonzalez, who is best served in a super-utility role, is playing every day as is the impotent bat of Franchy Cordero. While I don’t mind Gonzalez playing every day, I don’t particularly like Chavis or Araúz on this roster.
Optimally, Jarren Duran and Danny Santana come up with the former playing nearly every day and the latter spelling guys all around the field as they need it. Keep Plawecki in the mix. Cordero, Chavis, and Arauz get shipped down to Worcester to continue their development. Let’s DFA Austin Brice roll with the four-man bench of Gonzalez, Santana, Plawecki, and Arroyo, when he is healthy. With this arrangement your starters are Chrstian Vazquez, Bobby Dalbec, Enrique Hernández, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, and Duran with J.D. Martinez at DH. I like that offense a whole lot better.
I’m a believer that the Red Sox need to lengthen the bench, drop some excess weight, and trim down the bullpen, all in the same breath. My first move would be to call up Danny Santana when ready (who will replace Austin Brice on the roster), then to bring up Jarren Duran (when ready) to replace Franchy Cordero (who as much as I love, probably needs Triple-A time to find his swing again. He can be good, and he will be better, but he doesn’t have it yet).
From there, I might explore bringing up someone more surprising like Connor Wong in place of Kevin Plawecki to get a true defensive catcher backup on the roster, but ultimately this is just an add-on and not a main feature course. We don’t use all of our pitchers enough to justify a bigger bullpen, and I think it ultimately serves to weaken us on the whole.
There are a couple of relievers doing more harm than good on the roster in my opinion so I’d rather see my man Chavis who’s off to a good start on the bench and in the rotation as the 4th bench bat. Three, I suppose, makes sense if there is a stretch of games with few off days but even then I’d rather not pitch Brice or Taylor and the way Cora swaps guys in and out I just think Working Chavis into the mix makes more sense. So to sum it up: Four-man bench and give me more Chavis.
The way the Sox have built this year’s team makes it difficult to maintain a three-man bench year-round. The Sox were already struggling platooning guys before injuries to Enrique Hernández and Christian Arroyo. Guys like Hernández, Dalbec, and Renfroe should be platooned, but there’s not enough roster spots available to do that. This was a problem we knew about heading into the season and an issue they knew about too, but this is the bed they’ve decided to sleep in. So, I’m less concerned about the short-term possibility of riding with a three-man bench and more about the long term possibility of giving Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec plate appearances against right-handed pitching. With all this being said, they really don’t need 14 pitchers on staff. You can DFA Austin Brice and spread the garbage time innings around.
Yeah, my feelings are pretty clear here, but I will say at this specific point in time it is a little more difficult. Once one of Hernández or Arroyo is healthy, or they deem Danny Santana is ready, they need to get to a four-man bench. This set up just doesn’t make any sense, particularly with a few more days off on the schedule coming up. I’m not particularly excited about Santana, but I’d rather have him on the roster than Austin Brice.