With the Sox set to begin regular season action on March 29th in Tampa against the Rays, there are still three weeks for Alex Cora to dissect his squad and find the best fits for his club. The starters are very clearly identified when you look up and down the roster. However, injuries and the great play of some familiar faces have created some difficult decisions for the first year manager.
Based on what’s been said by Cora and the stories that have come out of Spring Training, I’ll do my best here to give a good indication of what we could expect the Red Sox 25 man roster to look like come Opening Day. Keep in mind, a lot can happen between now and then.
Here is what I believe the Red Sox will look like come Opening Day…
Mookie Betts – RF
Andrew Benintendi – CF
Hanley Ramirez – 1B
J.D. Martinez – DH
Rafael Devers – 3B
Xander Bogaerts – SS
Eduardo Nunez – 2B
Christian Vazquez – C
Jackie Bradley Jr. – CF
SP: Chris Sale
In 2017 Sandy Leon was, predominately, Chris Sale’s battery-mate. Christian Vazquez is the better hitter, just as good defensively and has won the starting job, in my opinion. I don’t foresee there being an issue with Chris Sale throwing to Vaz because it’s Chris-freaking-Sale. They’ve been working together during Spring Training.
Hanley Ramirez will have to prove himself with his bat in order to stay in the lineup. Ramirez says he’s gonna have a 30/30 season. I assume he means 30 dingers and 30 stolen bases, but we’ll have to see it before we believe it. He played first base well in 2016 and he’ll have to again, with Martinez becoming the new primary DH. Splitting time with former Gold Glove-winner Mitch Moreland, Hanley cannot look inferior by comparison if he wants to earn his keep and hit the plate appearances requirement spelled out in his contract. He’ll have to break out of cold streaks quickly and play solid defensively or Cora could call on Moreland more often, which would spell the end of Hanley Ramirez in Boston as soon as next off-season.
Utility man Eduardo Nunez was signed to play second base while Dustin Pedroia continues to rehab from offseason knee surgery. “The Identity” was a catalyst for Boston’s offense last year, and when healthy, can be a difference maker in the lineup and on the base paths. Nuñez brings that unique spark the Sox were missing last year until they acquired him, and he hit 8 of his 12 home runs last season almost immediately after being traded to the Sox in July.
Sandy Leon – C
Blake Swihart – C/Utility
Mitch Moreland – 1B
Deven Marrero – 3B/SS/Utility
Sorting out the Red Sox bench deemed a little more challenging. Part of the reason is the surging play of Blake Swihart. Swihart’s spring has put him in a position to win a roster spot. I think he’s done enough to bump Brock Holt out of his utility role. Taking into account that Holt has options left on his contract and Swihart doesn’t, moving Brock to Triple-A Pawtucket makes sense.
Unless he gets traded or sustains an injury, Blake Swihart should be on the opening day 25-man roster.
A big reason why I think Marrero makes the roster is, he too, is out of options. Marrero has proved himself as an above average fielder and could be used as a defensive replacement in games for Rafael Devers. I’m not counting on Devers having a rough year at third, but Marrero is a great insurance policy.
Craig Kimbrel – RHP
Carson Smith – RHP
Matt Barnes – RHP
Joe Kelly – RHP
Brandon Workman – RHP
Heath Hembree – RHP
Robby Scott – LHP
I hate leaving RHP Austin Maddox off of this list. I think he’s a better option than Heath Hembree AND Robby Scott, but that’s just me. I’m going for accuracy here so I left him off, but I fully expect him to pitch in the majors this season. And pitch well.
Robby Scott will be the only lefty in the bullpen, but when some guys start to get healthy, I think he’ll find his way back to Pawtucket. When either Eduardo Rodriguez or Steven Wright return to the Red Sox rotation, I think Brian Johnson will take his spot.
Matt Barnes was dreadful on the road last year. The truth of the matter is he can be dominant and possesses really good stuff. Pitch command is his biggest issue, but his experience is valuable. With a seemingly-healthy Carson Smith ready to take over that set-up role, Barnes may not find himself in a ton of high-pressure situations.
Brandon Workman pitched in only 33 games last season after not pitching in the majors since 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. In 2017 he struck out 37 in 39.2 IP showing he recovered well from it. He will look to carve out a role in the pen.
Chris Sale – LHP
David Price – LHP
Rick Porcello – RHP
Drew Pomeranz – LHP
Brian Johnson – LHP
Trying to put together this starting rotation was not easy. Alex Cora hasn’t given a great indication of what he plans to do with the crop of arms he has. Despite his postseason performance last year, Chris Sale is obviously the ace of the staff, but it got complicated after that.
I’d put David Price right behind Sale. Price has a unique opportunity for a redemption season with Boston and it’s fans. Health is the main concern with him and if he’s able to stay on the field, I expect Price to have a huge year for the Sox. In reality, we have no idea what we’re gonna get with him. Can that elbow throw 200+ innings? If he can pitch like he’s capable, the hope is Red Sox fans will jump back on the David Price train.
Rick Porcello won the 2016 American League Cy Young. It feels like forever ago, to be honest, because he sandwiched it between 2 crappy seasons. After a 2017 season that included leading the majors in losses, hits allowed and home runs allowed while surrendering the most walks of his career since 2009, Rick Porcello needs to have a bounce-back year.
Drew Pomeranz left his first spring training start with left forearm tightness. According to manager Alex Cora, the big lefty has no pain and will resume his throwing program. The general consensus is that he’ll be ready to go for the beginning of the 2018 campaign and his issue is minor. Pomeranz was 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA last year and remains a vital piece to Boston’s rotation.
Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez will be considered for that 5th spot. I think a couple of factors will ultimately sway Alex Cora to tap B.J. as the guy. He’s out of options and has had a phenomenal spring up to this point. Last season Johnson proved he could fill in when needed at the big league level and he should be rewarded for that. I do not consider Roenis Elias to be a viable option.
Dustin Pedroia – 2B
Eduardo Rodriguez – LHP
Steven Wright – RHP
Tyler Thornburg – RHP
Reportedly, Dustin Pedroia could be back as early as late April. Coming back from any injury is difficult, especially knee surgery. I’d expect Alex Cora and his staff to work Pedey back into the lineup cautiously, but you know The Laser Show is dying to get out there.
Eduardo Rodriguez had offseason knee surgery, too. With Rodriguez’s shaky history with knee issues, he and the medical staff will have to be 100% sure he’s conditioned enough to pitch. Long innings and high pitch counts have always been his Achilles Heel; his strength is of the utmost importance.
Knuckleballer Steven Wright had offseason surgery, as well. Wanna guess what kind? It was knee surgery! Wright is expected to be back sometime within the first month of the season. My guess is he’ll make it back before E-Rod if MLB doesn’t decide to punish him for his offseason arrest, which they very well could.
Sadly, Tyler Thornburg won’t be ready for Opening Day. According to Thornburg, he feels strong and hopes to be able to start contributing to the team sometime in April. I’m rooting like hell for the guy, but he has yet to throw a single regular season pitch for the Red Sox since being acquired on 12/6/16. We just don’t know what or how much he can bring.