Projecting the Boston Red Sox’s 2015 Opening Day roster once seemed rather easy. The joke’s on us.
Injuries to catcher Christian Vazquez, starting pitcher Joe Kelly and closer Koji Uehara have made predicting Boston’s Opening Day squad much more difficult in recent days.
The Red Sox’s outfield situation remains unclear, too, so manager John Farrell and Co. have plenty to sort out with the club’s April 6 season opener less than one week away.
Let’s not let a little uncertainty hold us back, though. Let’s embrace it, swing for the fences and attempt to nail down what exactly the Red Sox’s major league roster will look like in six days.
Well, at least one area of the roster remains intact. The Red Sox’s starting infield will consist of Mike Napoli (first base), Dustin Pedroia (second base), Pablo Sandoval (third base) and Xander Bogaerts (shortstop) unless something unforeseen happens. Brock Holt will serve in a super utility role.
Oh, the outfield. This has been a huge storyline since the Red Sox arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., and yet it’s still as complicated as ever for several reasons.
First, the Red Sox haven’t moved anyone. Trade rumors have surfaced from time to time, but Boston has kept all of its pieces in place, suggesting the club will take every second imaginable before determining who will make the trip to Philadelphia to open the season.
Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts are locks for left field and center field, respectively. Betts wasn’t a sure thing at the beginning of camp, but he has been unbelievable. The only question is whether he’ll emerge as the Red Sox’s best all-around player in 2015.
Allen Craig has been the most common subject of trade speculation, yet the Red Sox haven’t found a dance partner. He has looked better of late and he’ll probably stick around, at least to begin the season.
Daniel Nava, who abandoned switch-hitting, is a left-handed bat on a right-handed-heavy team. He also has a track record of being able to make an impact off the bench. He’ll stay.
Rusney Castillo looks like the odd man out — assuming Shane Victorino stays healthy — if for no other reason than he has minor league options remaining. Castillo has been awesome since returning from an oblique injury, but the Red Sox have been adamant Victorino is their starting right fielder if healthy.
Shipping Castillo to Pawtucket is the easiest way to alleviate Boston’s logjam, even if it’s somewhat unsettling given how well the 27-year-old has played.
Vazquez was placed on the 60-day disabled list Monday with a right elbow sprain, meaning Ryan Hanigan will see a bulk of the playing time behind the dish.
Boston’s backup role boils down to Sandy Leon, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals on Monday, and 35-year-old journeyman Humberto Quintero. Leon will earn the nod because he’s out of minor league options and already is on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster.
The wild card, of course, is prized prospect Blake Swihart. Swihart will start the season at Pawtucket, which is the right move given that he only has 18 games of Triple-A experience. But don’t be surprised if Swihart thrives with the PawSox and becomes the Red Sox’s starting catcher before the All-Star break.
Designated hitter (1)
Surely, you know all about him.
Starting rotation (4)
No, the Red Sox won’t go with a four-man rotation for long. But opening the season with Kelly on the DL makes sense because they don’t need a fifth starter until April 12 and the right-hander will be eligible to return April 11 if the team backdates his DL stint.
If you have the ability to carry an extra reliever for a few days, why not do it? Boston could use the extra arm in the bullpen with Uehara unlikely to be ready for Opening Day.
Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando and Anthony Varvaro are locks, which means three spots are up for grabs if Uehara and Kelly start the season on the DL and Boston carries eight relievers.
Breslow is the only left-hander in the aforementioned group, though Varvaro, who has better splits against lefties, essentially can function as a southpaw in matchup situations.
The Red Sox will want to carry at least one more lefty. Tommy Layne is the best candidate, but Robbie Ross also could snag a roster spot if Boston opts for two additional lefties out of the gate. Ross, like Varvaro, has interesting reverse splits.
The final spot could come down to Matt Barnes versus Brandon Workman. Workman has more experience, but Barnes has been electric this spring. Barnes, who features a high 90s fastball and a devastating curveball, should win the job because his arsenal is unlike any other in Boston’s ‘pen.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images