FORT MYERS, Fla. — With less than two weeks to go before Opening Day, the Red Sox have some tough roster decisions to make.
When the Sox open up against the Yankees on April 7, they will carry a 28-man roster. That’s because Major League Baseball is planning to allow teams to expand their rosters by two players after a shortened spring training. Rosters will revert back to 26 players on May 1.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora isn’t sure exactly how the Red Sox will use their final two roster spots, but he does have an idea of how the Opening Day group will be broken down. Boston will most likely carry 15 pitchers and 13 position players on its roster, Cora said. There are two open spots on the positional side of things; the pitching staff is more in flux. Cora also believes the expanded rosters will cause more trades and waiver claims around baseball in the coming days.
“It’s different now,” Cora said. “You’ve got to think about the now, and the future, and the options and all that stuff that comes into play. I bet the GMs and everybody that’s involved in that aspect of the baseball world, it’s going to be a lot different in the upcoming days. Maybe a lot of moves. It feels that way.”
The Red Sox will make a large round of cuts Sunday and further whittle down their roster throughout the last 10 days of camp. Here’s an initial crack at the 28-man group that will take the field for the Red Sox on Opening Day:
STARTING PITCHER (5): RHP Nathan Eovaldi, RHP Nick Pivetta, RHP Tanner Houck, RHP Michael Wacha, LHP Rich Hill
INJURED LIST (2): LHP Chris Sale (stress fracture in rib cage), LHP James Paxton (Tommy John surgery)
ANALYSIS: Cora has made it clear Eovaldi, Pivetta, Houck and Wacha are locked into his rotation, leaving Hill and righty Garrett Whitlock vying for the fifth spot. While both pitchers will likely start games this season, it seems more likely that Hill — who has plenty of experience as a big league starter — begins the year in the rotation. The rotation is a group that will be shuffled a few times during the season. The healthy returns of Sale (in the first couple months) and Paxton (midseason) will force other pitchers into different roles throughout the year. But it appears the Red Sox have a good idea what they’re doing to begin the year.
If Whitlock starts the year in the bullpen, he’ll be the first line of defense if something happens to a starter. Beyond him, the Red Sox have some intriguing starters (Kutter Crawford, Connor Seabold and Josh Winckowski) who will begin the year with Triple-A Worcester. Righty Brian Keller is a dark horse to contribute. Prospects Brayan Bello, Jay Groome and Chris Murphy aren’t quite ready to pitch in the majors yet but are names to watch in the future. Bryan Mata could factor into the mix once fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
RELIEF PITCHERS (10): RHP Matt Barnes, RHP Ryan Brasier, RHP Garrett Whitlock, LHP Jake Diekman, LHP Matt Strahm, RHP Hirokazu Sawamura, LHP Austin Davis, LHP Darwinzon Hernandez, RHP Eduard Bazardo, RHP Phillips Valdez
INJURED LIST (1): LHP Josh Taylor (back strain)
ANALYSIS: Two relievers the Red Sox will likely rely on heavily this season probably won’t be ready Opening Day, as Taylor is dealing with a back strain and Hansel Robles is not yet in camp due to visa issues. That reshuffles the deck significantly and makes for an open competition for the final couple of bullpen spots.
Whitlock and Barnes are locks who enter the year as Boston’s top two righty relievers. Diekman and Strahm signed major league deals and will make the team, too. It would be a surprise if Brasier, Sawamura or Davis (who is out of options) were cut, and Hernandez’s strong spring performance probably wins him a spot, too. From there, it’s wide open for the final two spots.
Bazardo and Valdez are on the 40-man roster and have big-league experience, so they have the edge for now. Beyond them, there’s a long list of candidates to steal a spot headlined by veteran lefty Derek Holland. Non-roster guests Silvino Bracho, Tyler Danish, Michael Feliz, Zack Kelly and Kaleb Ort all have potential, too. Durbin Feltman and newcomer Ralph Garza Jr. might be in the mix as well.
Boston’s bullpen will look much different in May than it will in April, especially if Taylor and Robles are ready to go. At this point, it’s unclear who will assume the closer role, though Whitlock and Barnes are the top two candidates.
WATCHERS (2): C Christian Vazquez, C Kevin Plawecki
ANALYSIS: Vazquez and Plawecki will return for their third season as Boston’s catching tandem. Beyond them, the Red Sox actually have a good amount of depth with Ronaldo Hernández and Connor Wong on the 40-man roster and Deivy Grullón in camp as a non-roster invitee. Kole Cottam and Roldani Baldwin are the two other catchers in camp.
INFIELDERS (6): SS Xander Bogaerts, 3B Rafael Devers, 2B Trevor Story, 1B Bobby Dalbec, UTIL Christian Arroyo, 1B Travis Shaw
ANALYSIS: Bogaerts, Devers and Story are three of the team’s best players and will help form one of the best offensive infields in baseball. Story, despite being away from the team due to the birth of his first child, will be ready to go for April 7. Dalbec will start at first base and make his second career Opening Day roster. Arroyo’s role has changed but he’ll be on the team, too.
Shaw, who re-signed with the Sox on a minor league deal last week, isn’t on the 40-man roster but seems to have the inside track on a spot because of his ability to platoon with Dalbec. Other infield candidates include Jonathan Araúz, Yolmer Sánchez and Roberto Ramos, who will all likely start the year in Worcester. Spring training MVP Ryan Fitzgerald has turned some heads, too. And though top prospects Triston Casas and Jeter Downs will likely both debut in 2022, they won’t be with the team to start the year.
OUTFIELDS (5): CF Kiké Hernández, LF Alex Verdugo, RF Jackie Bradley Jr., DH/OF JD Martinez, OF Rob Refsnyder
ANALYSIS: Hernández and Verdugo will be everyday starters in the outfield and it appears Cora’s plan is to have Martinez and Bradley will platoon in right field. That leaves a spot for a right-handed hitting outfielder and Refsnyder, a former Yankee, seems to have the inside track on winning a job.
Refsnyder would need to be added to the 40-man roster. Three left-handed hitting outfielders (Jarren Duran, Franchy Cordero and Christin Stewart) will likely start in the minors. Duran will factor into the big league picture at some point this season.
It’s important to note that Boston’s outfield mix might not be finalized. The Red Sox will almost certainly be on the lookout for right-handed hitting outfield depth in the coming days and weeks.
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