Spring training is underway, and even an abbreviated spring schedule provides an opportunity for the Boston Red Sox to address some areas of concern heading into 2022.
Yes, a 99-day lockout limited what the Red Sox, and the other 29 teams around Major League Baseball, really could accomplish in the offseason. Boston did make some moves, bringing outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. back to Boston in exchange for Hunter Renfroe and adding back-end rotation and bullpen depth with the arrivals of Michael Wacha, an injured James Paxton and veteran Rich Hill.
But in the days following the ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement, at which point transactions could be processed again, the Red Sox didn’t make any moves — even as free agents that could have helped them, like old friend Joe Kelly — were taken off the board. That means their current situation looks mostly like it did at the end of the 2021 season.
Thursday marks the first test for this current group, as Boston will open the spring season against the Minnesota Twins. Here are four things they’ll need to clear up between then and April 7, when they travel to the Bronx to face the New York Yankees.
Who will fill out the rotation?
The Red Sox lost Eduardo Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers in free agency. As a result, there’s a hole in the back end of the rotation behind Chris Sale — who could be considered a question mark himself as he embarks on his first full season after Tommy John surgery — and Nathan Eovaldi.
Nick Pivetta was consistent in 2021, and he showed the initiative in the offseason as he worked out with Sale and other pitchers at Florida Gulf Coast University while waiting for the lockout to end, then was the first player to report to spring training ahead of camps opening. And his on-field efforts were commendable: Pivetta posted a 4.53 ERA through 31 games (30 starts) in 2021, his first full season in Boston and a career year.
All things considered, Pivetta is a lock to take over for Rodriguez as the third starter. But where does that leave the rest of the rotation? Tanner Houck opened games in 2021, but he was extremely effective out of the bullpen late in the season and into the postseason, when he exclusively appeared as a middle reliever.
Garrett Whitlock put up Rookie of the Year numbers, and it’s worth considering whether or not he could make the opposite move from Houck and slot into the rotation.
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was non-committal regarding the future roles for both players when asked in November, so this very much seems like something that could shake out in spring training.
New arrival Paxton figures to slot into the group as well once he returns to the lineup after having Tommy John surgery in 2021, and Wacha and Hill are formidable options on the back of the rotation.
And the bullpen, for that matter?
While we’re on the subject of pitching, the bullpen is something to watch at this point of the year, too. Matt Barnes remains the biggest question mark for Boston in that department after the typically steady reliever fell apart following the All-Star break — so badly, in fact, he initially was left off the postseason roster.
Even if Barnes is back in full form in 2022, the Red Sox have some holes to address in that area as well.
Garrett Richards and Martín Pérez, who began last season as starters then moved to the bullpen (pretty successfully, too), had their options declined. Pérez since has moved on to Texas Rangers as a free agent. Elsewhere, Adam Ottavino is a free agent, as well.
There will be familiar faces in players like Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura and Darwinzon Hernandez, but will that be enough the rotation? In a market that boasts some of the top bullpen talents, the Red Sox will have plenty of options should they decide to explore the market.
Spring training will tell what they have to work with across the pitching staff.
What is the plan in right field?
Bringing Bradley back to Boston meant losing Renfroe, who was a defensive force for the Red Sox, though he did have his faults — leading MLB in both outfield assists (16) and outfield errors (12). Now that Renfroe is taking Bradley’s spot on the Milwaukee Brewers, Boston’s top option in right field is J.D. Martinez — which hardly was a good enough plan even before the universal designated hitter was set to be implemented.
Bradley has played center field for the majority of his career but has right field experience as well, so he seems the logical option to slide over to that position at this point. Making that move would leave Kiké Hernández as the go-to in center field, which surprisingly worked well in 2021.
Another option would be to move Alex Verdugo over from left field into right, though doing so would leave left field empty, unless Jarren Duran is ready for another try at the big leagues.
With the current roster makeup, the Red Sox seem like they can take the outfield one of two ways. Spring training could provide some direction in that regard.
Is Christian Arroyo an everyday second baseman?
Depending on what happens in the outfield, Hernández could officially be out of contention as Boston’s second baseman — a role he played in 47 games in 2021.
Arroyo was the primary second baseman, topping the team with 51 games at the position, though Marwin Gonzalez, Michael Chavis, José Iglesias and Jonathan Araúz all saw significant time at the position. Arroyo and Araúz are the only players from that group remaining on the roster, and it’s unclear whether either of them is capable of filling in as a daily second baseman.
In the offseason, Alex Cora didn’t sound too confident in Arroyo’s role, while Araúz only has played 53 games across two MLB seasons. Spring training should give the Red Sox an idea of how things will shake out with that current set-up.