It’s anyone’s guess at this point when the 2020 Major League Baseball will begin, as the sports world remains in a holding pattern amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
Sale had begun a throwing program in the hopes of returning this season, but the left-hander experienced more discomfort and thus the decision was made for him to go under the knife. He’ll now miss the entire 2020 campaign and could miss a chunk of 2021, as repairs to an elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) typically require a 12- to 18-month recovery and there’s currently no timetable for when the procedure will be completed.
Sale wasn’t expected to be ready for the Red Sox’s originally scheduled season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 26 thanks to both his elbow issue and a bout with pneumonia early in spring training. MLB delaying the start of its regular season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic opened the door for Sale to return without missing too many starts, but that’s now off the table.
While it’s difficult to project an Opening Day roster for the Red Sox — or any team, for that matter — given the world’s uncertainty, we can try our best based on what we know. So, let’s give it a shot.
Here’s our 26-man roster projection in wake of Thursday’s announcement regarding Sale.
Rotation (5): Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Ryan Weber, Brian Johnson
This unit already was thin after Rick Porcello signed with the New York Mets in free agency and the Red Sox traded David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the Mookie Betts blockbuster. Sale’s surgery only compounds the issue, although, as mentioned, he wasn’t expected to factor into Boston’s Opening Day plans, anyway.
Rodriguez, Eovaldi and Perez are locks — albeit ones with their own question marks based on past injuries and inconsistency — and all signs point toward Weber landing a rotation spot. Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke praised Weber multiple times throughout camp.
Boston’s hope, presumably, is the recently signed Collin McHugh will occupy the No. 5 spot at some point, but he’s still recovering from an elbow issue and has yet to begin throwing.
In the meantime, the Red Sox could turn to an opener strategy every fifth day, although Roenicke mentioned Brian Johnson as a rotation candidate Thursday when discussing the impact of Sale’s injury.
Johnson isn’t on the 40-man roster, so carrying him would require a corresponding roster move. But the lefty could provide valuable innings even if he’s not leaned on for a typical starter’s workload.
Bullpen (9): Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden, Heath Hembree, Ryan Brasier, Colten Brewer, Austin Brice
Workman, Barnes, Hernandez, Taylor, Walden and Hembree all are safe bets to crack the squad, leaving two or three spots up for grabs — depending on how you view other facets of the roster.
Josh Osich seemingly was eliminated from contention Thursday when Boston optioned him to Triple-A Pawtucket, and it now wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox roll with two holdovers (Brasier and Brewer) along with a newcomer (Brice). Brice is out of options and stood out in camp.
There are a bunch of names — Osich, Chris Mazza, Jeffrey Springs, Matt Hall, Phillips Valdez, Kyle Hart, Mike Shawaryn, Tanner Houck and Bryan Mata — who could factor into Boston’s bullpen equation at some point, but for now, familiarity wins the day.
Catchers (2): Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki
This arguably is the most difficult situation to decipher, largely because Jonathan Lucroy performed well in camp and Roenicke thinks very highly of the veteran backstop from their time together with the Milwaukee Brewers. Lucroy was an All-Star-caliber catcher who’s tailed off in recent years.
The backup job was Plawecki’s to lose entering spring training, and he really did nothing to hurt his case in what basically amounts to a toss-up that might be determined by contractual status: Plawecki, who signed a major league contract in January, already is on Boston’s 40-man roster. Lucroy, who signed a minor league deal in February, is not, and the Red Sox therefore would need to make a corresponding move to keep him in the bigs.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Boston gives any thought to carrying three catchers now that the active roster has expanded from 25 players to 26 players for 2020. Roenicke didn’t rule out the possibility recently, noting Lucroy’s offensive upside and ability to also play first base.
Infielders (6): Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Mitch Moreland, Michael Chavis, Jose Peraza, Tzu-Wei Lin
Nothing really jumps off the page here, except for maybe Lin’s inclusion. The case for keeping him is fairly simple, though: He’s versatile and is out of minor league options.
Jonathan Arauz, selected in the Rule 5 Draft, seemed to have a legitimate shot at making Boston’s roster thanks to his own versatility and upside, but the 21-year-old’s performance tailed off against viable major league pitchers as spring training progressed.
Marco Hernandez, another versatile infielder, likely will find his way to Boston again in the not-too-distant future, but he’s not on the 40-man roster right now. The Red Sox can use Lin in the super utility role previously occupied by Brock Holt and see where things go from there.
Outfielders (4): Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Pillar, J.D. Martinez
Where’s Alex Verdugo?
Well, it’s entirely possible the centerpiece of the Betts trade will have recovered from the back issue that’s plagued him this spring and assume his expected role as Boston’s starting right fielder. But we’ll play it safe and say he starts the season with a brief stint on the injured list.
That leaves four obvious outfielders, with Lin and Peraza also capable of sliding out onto the grass in a moment’s notice if the need arises.