Following an array of varying roster moves, the Red Sox 2023 depth chart is seemingly changing by the day. These transactions range from signing our closer of the present, Kenley Jansen (good?), to finally extending Rafael Devers to a long-term contract (good!), to designating Trevor Story as inactive due to elbow surgery (not so good…) following Xander Bogaerts’ departure to San Diego (inexplicably bad) and then the weird swap with the Dodgers that saw them sign J.D. Martinez while the Red Sox picked up Justin Turner (jury’s out, but probably okay!) There’s also a layer of guys that are being “linked” to the team, and most of those names end up signing elsewhere, often for more money than we can imagine our front office shelling out. Then there’s the mental gymnastics of Story to shortstop, Hernandez to second base, and finding a center fielder somewhere… anywhere (hi, Adam Duvall!) It’s anguishing.
On the rare occasion that a man not necessarily worthy of a 26-man roster spot anywhere in the league is signed, usually to a minor league deal (such as Jorge Alfaro, Niko Goodrum or Wyatt Mills), Red Sox nation laments that we have enough depth and that we need to focus on acquiring a true everyday starting talent. And they have a point. The Red Sox’s 2023 payroll currently stands at 216 million. That is more money than teams that have a significantly more stable full nine-man lineup. It’s an extraordinary amount of money to have such a big question mark in the middle of the infield. It’s especially harrowing that the very largest question mark is the very position that looked like the surest bet to be figured out in 2022.
You don’t need us to tell you how frustrating it is to see depth pieces being signed when we have such a glaring need. We’ve all grown tired of seeing solutions that don’t pan out. We’ve read dirt sheet pontifications on Joey Wendle, Dansby Swanson, and even Carlos Correa. We’ve found solace in Jose Iglesias’ 2021 leadership tendencies down the stretch. We’ve even joked that at 47-year-old Alex Cora himself could find some utility in… well… himself. He’d certainly get on base more than Iglesias… or several other options in the quad-A pool the Red Sox find themselves scouring. But what if an option is staring us right in the face? What if that option is someone we’re used to seeing somewhere else on the field? What if that option has the bat to back up a starting position, even if he’s been horrible in that position? What if he has history as a middle infielder?
What if that man is Jarren Duran?
Okay, okay… I know it’s a crazy ask to expect an outfielder with historically bad fielding out in center to step out into an infield position after not playing second base in many years. Duran was drafted as a second baseman, but hasn’t played in the infield at since his stint in Lowell in 2018. But, if it’s one thing this team does, it’s try players out at new positions they may be equipped correctly for.
If there’s one thing we know about Jarren Duran, it’s that he’s quick. Baseball Savant lists his sprint speed at 93rd percentile, and despite the play (yes… that one), despite being as baffled as Duran seemed in center field for Boston last year, he was baffling outfielders almost equally with his ability to round from first to home on a long single. Couple that with his experience as a lead off hitter, as well as Matasaka Yoshida’s lack of leadoff experience in Japan, and we might have a bridge solution for that spot in the lineup until the more patient Yoshida gets acquainted. Duran leaves much to be desired at the plate with his .221 2022 batting average, but hisextra base hit rate rose almost 50%, from 6.5% to 9.6% last year, in no small part due to his superb speed. But despite bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the majors, he also outranks quite a few guys who our major league team could employ full-time in 2023 in the batting department.
There have been worse depth pieces than Duran to see their time in Boston come to an end. There also have been heinous mental mistakes made by the 27-year-old (yes, that play, but not just that play), in which most players would have been sent on the Massachusetts Pike west to Worcester the following day; and yet there Duran was the next day, leading off. That must mean management sees an opportunity for him somewhere. That he hasn’t been unceremoniously DFA’d like the likes of Eric Hosmer, Jeter Downs, etcetera, means he fits into this team’s plans somehow. That the team is sheepish on employing a true second baseman leads some thoughts to either Kiké Hernandez, Bobby Dalbec, Triple-A power-hitting sensation Emmanuel Valdez, or Duran getting some time playing where they’re not entirely comfortable. This mental depth chart will change almost seemingly on a daily basis with every rumor of the Red Sox being in talks for a deal with another team or with an obscure free agent. Not many of these links come to fruition, and frankly, less than half even sound intriguing. But rather than just wait until the season starts to see where exactly that roadmap leads Duran, why not speculate with every new roster move made until Opening Day? That’s much more fun.