Ding-dong, the lockout is dead. After over three months of waiting for a new CBA to be agreed to by the players and the league, a deal was struck on Thursday and Major League Baseball is back in business. As of this writing, things still need to be officially ratified by the owners — that’ll take place at 6:00 PM ET — but no hiccups are expected on that front. As soon as the new deal becomes official, trades and free agency will open back up, and it’s expected to be a madhouse in transaction land. The Red Sox, of course, figure to be right in the middle of it. With that in mind, let’s take a look at where things stand with their roster right now and what areas will need work before the season kicks off in the Bronx on April 7.
Interestingly, the Red Sox were reported to have had some interest in former Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings before the lockout went into place, and while they didn’t land him it speaks to the fact that they feel there is at least some upgrade potential at the position. That said, it seems more likely that they stick with what they have here. Christian Vázquez took a step back with the bat last year, but he’s still a good defensive catcher with the potential for a bounce back at the plate. Kevin Plawecki is a solid backup in his own right and is still under team control. Boston also has a couple of prospects ready in Triple-A with Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernández, neither of whom should be playing significantly at this point but provide solid depth. Given how difficult it is to find good all-around catchers right now, it’d be a surprise if they didn’t stick with the Vázquez/Plawecki pairing to start the season.
This is the big wildcard position on the roster as things stand right now. It’s possible that they don’t do anything and just roll with the infield we saw in the postseason last year, with Bobby Dalbec at first, Christian Arroyo at second, Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, and Rafael Devers at third. On the other hand, there’s an argument for changes at each of those spots. Dalbec had a red-hot stretch in the second half, but major questions with his swing and miss tendencies remain. Arroyo is a good backup and probably a decent enough second-division starter, but it’s not that hard to find an upgrade, and that’s to say nothing of his struggles to stay healthy. And then there’s Bogaerts and Devers, both of whom are part of this team’s core but also each coming with major defensive questions at their respective positions.
Ultimately, my expectation is that they mostly roll with the status quo with just a small move in the middle infield. José Iglesias seems like the most logical choice here, but there are a number of potential options who could fit that role. Bringing in someone who can cover for Bogaerts defensively and also challenge Arroyo for plate appearances at second base would seem to me to be the best move.
If there is an area in which the Red Sox are going to make anything resembling a big splash, I would imagine this is where the smart money is. If you squint you could argue they have a starting outfield already with Alex Verdugo, Enrique Hernández, and Jackie Bradley Jr. in some alignment. However, that would be ignoring the fact that Bradley was perhaps the worst hitter in all of baseball a season ago. Hernández showed last season that he can handle center field more than adequately, which means the search should be for a corner outfielder. There are plenty of those available, though as we’ve mentioned no fewer than one million times (don’t fact check that number) Seiya Suzuki provides the best mix of handedness, defensive ability, contract value, and age for this team.
There’s also the whole discussion around the DH situation for the Red Sox, which we’ll include in this section. J.D. Martinez is currently manning that spot and it certainly should not be considered a negative if that remains the case on Opening Day. That said, with the NL adding the DH in the new CBA, 15 new teams enter the market for a player like Martinez. If the right deal exists both for Martinez and for a free agent — most likely Kyle Schwarber after last season, though Nick Castellanos could make a ton of sense as well — then trading the veteran and signing a younger option for that role could boost multiple areas of the organization. At minimum they need a starting corner outfield option who would move Bradley to the bench, but the DH situation is one to watch in these next couple of weeks as well.
This is where the bulk of the Red Sox work before the lockout went, so it’s not really clear where they’re planning to go now that the lockout has ended. Prior to the shutdown, Boston added three veteran starters in Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, and James Paxton. The latter will not be available for at least the first half of the season due to injury, but the other two in combination with Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, and Nick Pivetta gives the Red Sox a theoretically full rotation. Plus, that’s not even talking about the young major-league options in Tanner Houck or Garrett Whitlock, nor the Triple-A depth arms in Connor Seabold, Josh Winckowski, and Kutter Crawford.
If I’m being honest, I think I could be convinced of any scenario being the correct path here. It’s feasible to not really do much else here given all of the other options I just listed. There is top-end talent, major-league experience, and upside sprinkled throughout those options. On the other hand, there are also a ton of question marks, both injury and performance related. When you add in a rushed spring training, more depth is not a bad thing. Ultimately I think this isn’t a priority, but trying to add another veteran or two on minor-league deals would be prudent.
Without a doubt, the most work needs to be done here. The outfield has carried most of the spotlight through this shutdown, and for valid reason. That’s the spot where the biggest name is likely to be added. But with the bullpen, the Red Sox desperately need bodies and they need late-inning help. There aren’t a ton of marquee names left in free agency outside of Kenley Jansen, but there are underrated pitchers like Ryan Tepera, and also guys like Joe Kelly who are erratic but can fill a late-inning role.
A lot of the need comes down to the team’s plan with Houck and Whitlock. Assuming both are going to prepare to be starters, that just leaves Matt Barnes and Josh Taylor as your top arms, and while they both are good — we saw what Barnes can do in the first half last season, but he’s had trouble doing it consistently through a whole year, while Taylor is extremely underrated — they aren’t what you want to headline your bullpen as a contender. I’d expect them to add at least a few new relievers on major-league deals, whether it be via trade or free agency.
Right now, the Red Sox 40-man roster sits at 39 players. They’ll be able to move Paxton to the 60-day injured list soon to clear another spot, and they could do the same with Bryan Mata, though they’d have to weigh that decision with him accruing service time. Even so, moves on the 40-man are likely to come. Hudson Potts seems to be among the first who would go, with players like Phillips Valdez, Austin Davis, Jeisson Rosario, and Jonathan Araúz being other potential options.
What do you think will happen? Where will the team prioritize, and what surprise moves could be coming our way?