As we prepare for spring training and the impending 2015 baseball season we all have our hopes set upon having a competitive team who contends for a playoff spot and beyond. In baseball parlance, 2014 was just a disaster of a season for the Boston Red Sox but it never had the feel of utter futility like the season of Valentine (2012) did. We want more of the joy from 2013 to return than the gut punch feeling of last year.
The Red Sox not unlike any other team will have some decision to make in shaping their final 25-man roster for the 2015 season which opens in Philadelphia facing the Phillies on April 6th.
In the off season they either dealth away, lost to free agency or retirement the following players. RP Burke Badenhop (FA/Reds), C David Ross (FA/Cubs), C Ryan Lavarnway (DFA/Dodgers), RP Alex Wilson (Traded/Tigers), LF Yoenis Cespedes (Traded/Tigers), SP Allen Webster (Traded/Diamondbacks), SP Rubby De La Rosa (Traded/Diamondbacks), 3B Will Middlebrooks (Trade/Padres), C Dan Butler (Traded/Nationals), SP Anthony Ranaudo (Traded/Rangers) and RP Drake Britton (DFA/Cubs).
In return they have brought in 3B Pablo Sandoval (FA/Giants), LF Hanley Ramirez (FA/Dodgers), SP Justin Masterson (FA/Cardinals), SP Rick Porcello (Trade/Tigers), SP Wade Miley (Trade/Diamonbacks), C Ryan Hanigan (Trade/Padres), RP Robbie Ross (Trade/Rangers), RP Alexi Ogando (FA/Rangers) and RP Anthony Varvaro (Trade/Braves). In addition they resigned Closer Koji Uehara, RP Craig Breslow, OF Daniel Nava (arb eligible), RP Junichi Tazawa (arb eligible) and Porcello (arb eligible). They also signed Miley to a new 3-year contract ($19 M) with a team option in 2018.
So let’s look at the potential final 25-man roster that Manager John Farrell and his staff could carry out Fort Myers into the 2015 season.
In my mind whether I like it or not I truly feel that Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves view Clay “Bill The Cat” Buchholz as the team’s number one starter. I see why they would because when, and I must stress when, Buchholz is right and there’s no injury physically or mentally, he can be and has been lights out. Just look at the first half of 2013.
So if Buchholz is the opening day guy I see them going with newly acquired Rick Porcello in the two hole. Porcello is young, but like Buchholz has a lot of major league experience and has spent his career hanging around with guys like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price so that can’t hurt.
That should then put left starter Wade Miley in the third slot in the rotation. Miley, who just got a nice new contract, is a bit of a wild card. If he pitches to the top of his talent level there is a solid 3 guy and his former pitching coach said he will have no issues handling the glare of Boston as compared to Arizona.
That means rounding out the back of the rotation is some combination of Joe Kelly and Justin Masterson to start out. Kelly is young and athletic and gets it up into the upper 90’s, while Masterson is built more like Roger Clemens with a heavy sinker.
Interesting to note only Buchholz is considered a fly ball guy while the other four are known more for getting ground balls and I’m not sure there’s a true strike out artist in the group even though most if not all five can get one when they need it.
In the Boston bullpen it all starts and ends with Koji Uehara, the 40-year closer, who struggled a bit at the end of 2014 after two years of heavy use. When he is dialed in he is unhittable. He is sneaky fast, very deceptive in his delivery and has pinpoint control.
Farrell and Nieves have three guys they can go to in order to bridge the game the Koji. Edward Mujica, Tazawa and Breslow, who in addition to being a bridge may also be used at times as a situational lefty. Look for the newly acquired Ross to the situational lefty, with his former teammate Ogando and Varvaro to fill the other roles in the pen.
I’m going with Varvaro over Brandon Workman to start the season because Varvaro is out of options and would have to clear waivers to be sent down, where Workman still has options left.
Let’s start behind the dish the team basically came out at the end of the season and said they are very comfortable with Christian Vazquez as the starter. Vazquez will not hit for much early on in his career but they expect that like Yadi Molina and Carlos ruiz that will come along as he gets older. What they like is his catching presence, defensively there is not much the kid from Puerto Rico doesn’t do well. The team also added C Ryan Hannigan in a deal with San Diego via Tampa Bay to be the back up. I see Hannigan playing about 50 games with a healthy Vazquez getting the other 110 or so.
Catching prospect Blake Swihart will be at Triple A Pawtucket this season and it’s a big year for Vazquez who will not doubt have Swihart pushing him in 2016. One of them could end up being a trade chip for something big at some point there’s alos the smaller chance the team keeps both a while as a catching tandem, but that’s unlikely to last long if at all.
First base belongs to Mike Napoli who returns from an injury plagued 2014 and post sleep apnea surgery. It’s the last season of Napoli’s contract so I expect big things from him.
Dustin Pedroia is full go once again post off season surgery and will once again to play every play of every game but as Pedroia starts to age a bit and these injuries take some sort of toll it may be wise for Farrell to hold him out more frequently or use him as a DH to give David Ortiz a break against a tough lefty.
Xander Bogaerts has survived it all in his short time in Boston, from a position change to severely struggling in the middle of the 2014 season but he is still here and working hard. Bogaerts needs to improve in the field there’s no doubt about that and I believe with coach Brian Butterfield that will happen, I mean look what Butter did for Derek Jeter as a young player. Hitting wise I feel Bogaerts will be fine if he can learn to make the necessary adjustments as staffs adjust to him.
No surprise that we now have a Panda manning the hot corner. Pablo Sandoval comes cross country and to a new league to try for his 4th World Series ring in 6 seasons. Huge upgrade over the position from last year plus he adds a left handed bat that was badly needed.
I’m also going to stick the previously mentioned Ortiz in here he may age but his desire to win, his attitude and infectous smile rarely, if never, change. He is starting his 13th season in Boston, he is a true living legend in Red Sox and Boston sports history and everytime he comes to bat he can change a game with one swing. Just ask Detroit, St. Louis, New York…
I’m going to say the starting outfield will be Ramirez in left, Rusney Castillo in center and Mookie Betts in RF. I feel Hanley and Castillo are obvious locks but it’s up to Mookie, face it the job is his to lose.
If Betts picks up where he was in 2014 Shane Victorino doesn’t get on the field and ends up as trade bait or a very valuable becnh piece who can play all three outfield postions and DH. If Betts falters in camp, he goes to Pawtucket, not as a punishment but so he can play everyday, get at bats and play in the outfield, which remember is a new position for him as late last season. Then he gets a chance with either injury, trade, poor play by someone on the big club or just being so damn good they can’t keep him in Pawtucket.
This is possibly the toughest to call. The one true given is Hanigan, as the back up catcher. After that there are some different looks. If Betts is the right fielder then Victorino goes to the bench and he either accepts this at the end of his career or he asks for a trade. Victorino on the bench may have more value to Boston then trading him to another team for a prospect or lower level major league player. As I stated in the outfielders section he can and has played all three outfield positions in his career, he has always been good defensively and could be the guy who spells Ortiz as a DH on occasion. He is also even more valuable if he continues to switch hit, which there are indications he will.
If that plays out were Betts is the starter and Victorino is on the bench, that leaves you Allen Craig who plays both corner outfield spots and first base and will also get some spring training work at third, a position he did play some in the past.
With the versatilty of Craig and Victorino, that leaves your extra infielder as Brock Holt who also plays the outfield and in the absence of Victorino on the bench would be Farrell’s only left handed bat option.
So where does this leave Daniel Nava? Good question and there are so many possibilities. If you use the above scenario of Ramirez, Castillo, Betts in the outfield with Craig, Victorino and Holt on the bench Nava is the odd man out and either goes to Pawtucket or gets moved.
Should Betts falter and goes to Pawtucket or there’s a trade involving Victorino or Craig you could see Nava on the bench as the 5th outfielder and back up first baseman.
The wild card could be Jackie Bradley Jr., who started last season as the starting center fielder only to struggle and return to Triple A for a spell and then he came off the bench at times towards the end of the season. If Bradley excells and out plays Nava or one of the veteran’s it could change the how complexion of the outfield or the bench. We know Bradley has great speed and is an incredible defensive oiutfielder and I’m sure there were calls on him this off season but the organziations see’s something in him and he has stuck around and before the season is out he could make a difference for this team more so than I think Nava could.
Here is my opening day roster projection for the 2015 Boston Red Sox: