The chances of the Boston Red Sox adding to their roster before next Thursday’s regular-season opener decrease with each passing day.
It was plausible in the immediate aftermath of signing Trevor Story that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom would make additional moves to bolster the squad before Opening Day, but it’s looking more and more like the players who will suit up April 7 against the New York Yankees already are in camp.
“I believe (the group) is here, but maybe we can add,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Wednesday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. “But I do believe we have the 28 guys here.”
Thus, the question becomes: Who are the 28?
It’s important to note the 28-man roster is a byproduct of the Major League Baseball lockout, with MLB and the MLB Players Association agreeing to expand from the usual 26-man roster through May 1 as a way to combat the unusual ramp-up associated with a truncated spring training. And Cora indicated he’ll probably use the extra two spots on pitchers, meaning the Red Sox likely will break camp with 15 hurlers and 13 position players.
The Red Sox already made several rounds of roster cuts in spring training, offering some additional clarity, but it sure seems like a couple of bullpen spots and a couple of bench roles remain up for grabs one week before the games start counting for real.
So, here’s one more crack at projecting the Red Sox’s 2022 Opening Day roster, keeping in mind that left-handed pitchers Chris Sale, Josh Taylor and James Paxton will be sidelined to begin the season.
(For comparison/additional context, click here to read our first roster projection.)
Catchers (2): Christian Vázquez, Kevin Plawecki
Nothing to change here. The Red Sox theoretically could have carried a third catcher to open the season, but they optioned Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernández to Triple-A Worcester over the weekend, all but squashing that scenario.
Infielders (6): Bobby Dalbec, Trevor Story, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Christian Arroyo, Travis Shaw
The infield looks set, with Dalbec at first base, Story at second base, Devers at third base and Bogaerts at shortstop. Arroyo will serve as a utility infielder — with the potential to play some outfield, too — and Shaw is worth keeping around primarily as a left-handed complement to Dalbec at first, at least until top prospect Triston Casas forces his way into the major league equation.
Of note: Shaw is a non-roster invitee at Red Sox spring training, and Boston therefore would need to open a spot on the 40-man roster to facilitate his call-up.
Franchy Cordero is another left-swinging first base candidate, with a higher ceiling and a lower floor. He’s had a much stronger showing in Grapefruit League games than Shaw, although we probably should take all spring results with a grain of salt this year.
Jonathan Araúz and Yolmer Sánchez are among the other infield depth options who could see time with Boston this season — with the former being an easier promotion given his placement on the 40-man — and prospect Jeter Downs, like Casas, might change the conversation at some point, as well.
Outfielders (4): Alex Verdugo, Kiké Hernández, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rob Refsnyder
Verdugo and Hernández are locked into full-time roles, likely in left field and center field, respectively. That leaves Bradley and someone else to patrol right field, with JBJ, a left-handed hitter, garnering most of the at-bats against right-handers and the other person facing southpaws.
Cora said J.D. Martinez, the primary designated hitter, could see time in right field against lefties. Same goes for Arroyo, an infielder open to moving out to the grass. Neither is an ideal scenario, though, which highlights Boston’s continued need for a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Perhaps the Red Sox will address that area before Opening Day or early in the season, either via free agency or trade.
If not, Refsnyder, a non-roster invitee, has a good opportunity to break camp with Boston. The 31-year-old is versatile, experienced and performed well against left-handers last season.
Of note: Boston optioned Jarren Duran to Worcester over the weekend. He’s an imperfect fit — a left-handed-hitting corner outfielder — based on Boston’s current roster construction, but he’ll almost certainly receive a promotion in the coming months.
Designated hitter (1): J.D. Martinez
See above. Martinez remains the primary DH for Boston. He also might occasionally play the outfield, although the Red Sox would be wise to limit that exposure — due to both his defensive shortcomings and the potential for the 34-year-old to wear down later in the year.
Starting rotation (5): Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Michael Wacha, Garrett Whitlock
Eovaldi, Pivetta, Houck and Wacha are set to start the first four games, with Sale sidelined due to a stress fracture in his rib cage. That leaves Rich Hill and Whitlock battling for the fifth spot. And while Hill is the safe bet, based on his own track record and Whitlock’s lack of big league starting experience, it’s interesting that Cora still hasn’t ruled out the latter beginning the season in Boston’s rotation.
So, let’s get weird. The Red Sox always can shift Whitlock back to the ‘pen, where he thrived in 2021, so why not see if he’s capable of securing a role in which he’d be arguably even more valuable?
Regardless, the rotation won’t be etched in stone. Some pieces inevitably will shift around, especially once Sale returns and Paxton reaches the end of his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Whitlock and Hill might even piggyback each other in outings, making the entire debate kind of dumb.
Bullpen (10): Matt Barnes, Rich Hill, Jake Diekman, Matt Strahm, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Darwinzon Hernandez, Austin Davis, Phillips Valdez, Kutter Crawford
Barnes is a lock. So are Diekman and Strahm, two left-throwing newcomers, and either Hill or Whitlock based on how the rotation situation shakes out. We’ll also assume Brasier, Sawamura, Hernandez and Davis are safe, even though it hasn’t been the smoothest spring for a couple of those guys.
That leaves two spots. We last projected right-hander Hansel Robles and left-hander Derek Holland — two non-roster invitees — would round out the bullpen. And they still might. But Robles just arrived to spring training Thursday due to visa issues and could require more time to build up, and it’s not hard to envision Holland ultimately becoming a victim of the Red Sox’s 40-man roster crunch.
Thus, we’ve replaced them with Valdez and Crawford. Valdez, who pitched meaningful relief innings last season, is a seamless fit if Robles isn’t ready. And Crawford has impressed to the point where the Red Sox didn’t option him to Worcester over the weekend, with Cora even acknowledging he’s still in the mix.
In this scenario, Crawford (a righty) and Hill (a lefty) can provide bulk innings in relief. That Crawford already is on the 40-man roster also makes life easier from a logistical standpoint.
Eduard Bazardo is another name to watch over the final few days of spring training.