Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Red Sox Roster Coming Into Focus

There are roughly two weeks remaining in spring training, and the Red Sox began making initial roster cuts today. There were no surprises; 12 minor league players were reassigned to minor league camps.

At this point, the Sox' roster appears mostly fixed, with few questions. The primary one is, of course, who the everyday center fielder will be: Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore. More on that in a moment.

The Red Sox will carry the customary 12 pitchers; five starters and seven relievers. The rotation, notwithstanding the retirement of Ryan Dempster, will have no surprises at the outset.

Manager John Farrell has already indicated the order of the starting rotation as Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz.

If that order seems odd, it's a testament to the great spring that Doubront is having, as well as a clear desire to diminish the workload and expectations of Buchholz. It will also give the Sox, and Buchholz, a strong advantage over other team's fifth starters.

However, putting Buchholz in the fifth spot may only be a temporary arrangement, perfect for the first month of the season, or so. The rotation is always subject to change given injuries, days off, rainouts, and how a certain pitcher matches up with another team's pitcher at any given time. For example, a team's No. 1 or No. 5 pitcher doesn't always lineup against the other team's equivalent.

The bullpen, though mostly set, is not yet fully formed. There is still at least one spot in play.

The Sox will likely go with Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica, and lefties Andrew Miller and Chris Capuano, Given that lefty Craig Breslow just threw his first spring bullpen this week, and seems to be having some sort of shoulder issue, it appears likely that he will begin the season on the disabled list.

That leaves one open bullpen spot, with plenty of competition.

Farrell has been impressed with Drake Britton so far in camp, and it appears that the lefty is in the running for a bullpen role. But Brandon Workman proved himself at the big league level last year and even pitched in the World Series. It's tough to argue that he's not worthy of a roster spot.

However, both Britton and Workman have options remaining, so there is no danger of losing either player if they are assigned to Pawtucket to start the season.

Beyond that pair, the Sox will have a ton of depth options at the Triple-A level: Alex Wilson (R), Joe Mijares (R), Rich Hill (L), Francisco Cordero (R), Dalier Hinojosa (R), and Rubby De La Rosa (R) will all be waiting for a call.

The Red Sox infield is pretty well settled at this point. A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross will split time behind the plate, with the former expected to catch approximately 100 games. The Sox will have Mike Napoli at first, Dustin Pedroia at second, Will Middlebrooks at third and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. Newly acquired Jonathan Herrera is projected as the utility infielder.

David Ortiz, of course, will be the designated hitter and bat third.

That's seven infielders, plus the DH. Add in the 12 pitchers and we're up to 20 roster spots, leaving five remaining.

The outfield is where it gets a bit more complicated. There are six players currently vying for five spots.

Gold Glove winner Shane Victorino will patrol right field once again, and that's about the only certainty. However, it seems likely that the combination of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes will again form a left field platoon.

Center field is where the action is. Bradley Jr. was the heir apparent after Jacoby Ellsbury departed for New York. But Sizemore has surprised everyone in spring training. He's shown speed, agility and even good timing at the plate, which is particularly amazing for a guy who missed the last two seasons. The question is how often, and how many games, Sizemore will be able to play this year.

The above group amounts to five players for five outfield spots. But that doesn't account for Mike Carp, who posted a .296/.362/.523/.885 slash line last season, along with nine homers and 43 RBI in 216 at-bats.

Despite his versatility in playing left and first, Carp is battling for a roster spot and could be the odd man out. He has no minor league options remaining, which is why Seattle traded him to Boston at this time last year.

According to multiple reports, scouts from the Pirates and Brewers have been at Red Sox camp keeping an eye on Carp, who leads the Sox with three homers (tied with Bryce Brentz) in 21 at-bats this spring.

Barring an injury, something has got to give: someone from that group of six outfielders has to go. While Carp may seem like the most likely candidate for a trade, the Red Sox really like his defensive versatility and his ability to come off the bench and deliver key pinch hits.

There is a rather simple solution.

Don't be surprised if Bradley starts the season back in Triple-A. The young outfielder has been struggling this spring, posting a .208/.296/.333 line, with just five hits (one for extra bases) in 24 at-bats, and more strikeouts (six) than walks (three).

Additionally, Bradley still has options remaining and assigning him to Pawtucket would allow the Sox to keep Carp on the roster and use Bradley as a depth option down the line this season.

After all, the Grady Sizemore experiment / feel good story is just one play away from ending badly.

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