Bullpen- Unlike the rotation, the re-signing of free agent Koji Uehara leaves the Boston bullpen with stable vets in key spots. Koji will close with fellow countryman Junichi Tazawa the 8th inning specialist. Edwin Mujica, who pitched much better post All-Star break in 2014 also returns. The left handed side of the pen is less settled. Tommy Layne and Drake Britton, both of who spent the majority of '14 in AAA, are the only incumbent lefties, after the July trade of Andrew Miller and the option declination of Craig Breslow. Miller and Breslow are not completely out of the picture. Breslow could brought back on a cheaper deal than the option declined by the Sox, though I think the Sox will move on from the '13 ALCS star. Boston would love to grab Miller back, as he is now a free agent with no draft pick attached. But Andrew was so spectacular for Boston and Baltimore in 2014, he may one of the hottest free agents on the market. It is widely thought he will get a 4 year, $32M deal. I cannot imagine Boston going there. Since most of the free agent relievers connected to Boston other than Miler are righties ( Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Luke Hochevar) it may be that Layne and Britton are the Boston bullpen lefties, at least going into spring training.
I believe any other hurlers to join the bullpen brigade will come from the plethora of young pitchers who have hit Boston in 2013-14. Whoever is not traded this winter or loses out on a possible starting job should be in the pen. The approximate order of likely pitchers to land in the pen are: Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Stephen Wright, Matt Barnes, Edwin Escobar, Anthony Ranaudo. Also included in this pool are two pitchers from AAA who are all ready relievers: Alex Wilson and Heath Hembree.
Likely 2015 Opening day Bullpen: Uehara, Tazawa, Mujica, Layne, Workman, A. Wilson, Hochevar.
Catcher- Incumbents (from current 40 man roster): Christian Vazquez, Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, Blake Swihart. In reverse order, Swihart was just added to 40 man roster, and will be the everyday AAA catcher until at least July if not all year. Butler may have a small chance of being the Boston backup receiver in 2015, but without a veteran ahead of him, that chance gets even smaller. If not included in a deal, Butler also spends next year in Rhode Island. Lavarnway, someone whom Boston apparently had given up on, is inexplicably still on the team. But if you want to stump your Red Sox friends at a holiday party, ask them who are the five most senior members of the current Red Sox roster, based on when they were most recently added to the 40 man roster. The answer is David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz (okay so far, right), Junichi Tazawa is #4 and at number 5 is yep, Ryan Lavarnway, who was added to the roster in August 2011.
Vazquez, all ready renowned for his pitch framing and incredible pop times to second to gun out would be base stealers, is the odds on favorite to be the regular Red Sox catcher in 2015. The fact John Farrell loves him cements the deal. Only one small fly in the ointment before CV is anointed ( OK two things, he will need to prove he can hit enough to be a starting big league catcher), is if the Red Sox end up aggressively pursuing Cole Hamels from Philadelphia, could Vazquez be included in the deal? Far-fetched? Philly has reported heavy interest in Swihart, who Boston is very reluctant to trade, as they are with Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. Would a package of Vazquez, Henry Owens, and Deven Marrero, Manuel Margot get Hamels or least get close?
The backup backstop spot is wide open and likely to come from outside. With the Sox lacking left handed hitters the rumors have Sox pursuing a lefty hitter for the #2 catcher spot. John Jaso of Oakland is effective lefty hitter, but not the most reliable defensive catcher, Billy Beane likes to deal so Jaso in a real possibility. Two transactions that have all ready occurred this off season could affect the search. The Tigers were rumored to non tender Alex Avila, but that did pick up his option. Avila, another lefty hitter, has been the Motown starter for several years, but due to the buildup of injuries, including concussions, many teams view him as a backup from here on out. For Boston to get Avila now a trade is needed. The Angels have traded catcher Hank Conger to Houston which led to rumors that current Astros receiver Jason Castro could be available in trade. Castro, who once drafted by Boston, would fulfill the left handed hitting need, but he may sought by clubs looking for a starting catcher. If none of the left handed hitting options pan out, the Sox could re-sign free agent David Ross, who while does not bat lefty, is a perfect mentor for Vazquez.
One last name, going back to the idea of dealing Vazquez to the Phillies. In that deal the Sox would try to get catcher Carlos Ruiz (who the Sox pursued last winter when he was a free agent) included in the deal. Ruiz could keep the seat warm for Swihart and then act as mentor/backup for Blake.
Likely Opening day catchers: Christian Vazquez, David Ross
Shaw will start 2015 back at AAA as the every day first sacker. Shaw has never been considered a blue chip prospect, but he hits left handed and the man has power: 21 home runs last year at Portland and Pawtucket combined. Nava and Craig are outfielders foremost (although defensively Craig is much better off playing first) who would back up Napoli.
Juan Francisco, the rotund corner infielder, was picked up on waivers this week from the Jays. The pros: he bats left handed and has power, 16 jacks in '14 with part time at bats. Cons: he is a crappy defensive player at either first or third. He could make the team as a bat of the bench, if the Sox clear several members of the existing 1B/3B/OF logjam. My best guess is that the Sox designate Juan for assignment during the winter to make room on the currently full 40 man roster, maybe signing him to a spring training invite, if he clears waivers.
Mike Napoli is very likely to be the '15 first baseman and will form the power core of the lineup with David Ortiz and Yoenis Cespedes. But there is a definite shortage of right handed power in the game, therefore there are whispers ( reported by Peter Gammons, for one) the Sox may listen on offers for Napoli. They are also shopping Cespedes reportedly and if Yoenis goes, Napoli almost certainly stays. Another transaction that went down late this week changes somewhat the complexion of the Gammons report. He said the Sox could deal Napoli for pitching and then sign Adam LaRoche for a lefty bat at first (especially if they fail to get a lefty hitting third baseman). But Laroche has signed with the other Sox in Chicago. But could the Sox replace Nap with a Craig/Nava platoon?
One Napoli rumor involves a pitcher I mislabeled somewhat in the trading for pitching post. Seattle covets Napoli and one rumor is Nap for pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. I had called Iwakuma a pitcher Seattle would not trade, but in fact he is a free agent one year from now and may be available for Napoli who also has one year to go on his contract.
Likely Opening day 1st baseman: Allen Craig/Daniel Nava ( just a feeling I have).
Coyle after an outstanding year at Portland will head to AAA for '15 if he is not traded in a package. For example, Coyle is from Philly, I hear they have a team there who scouted the Sox system extensively throughout 2014.
I think the Sox may have found something useful in Weeks and if he can play short at all (not sure he can), he could be the utility infielder on this team if Holt isn't. Holt probably should listed elsewhere because barring a Pedroia disaster Holt is not playing much here.
Pedroia is without question the man here. Best case scenario he is finally healthy for a whole campaign, and his power resurfaces. At minimum Pedey can earn another Gold Glove and provide a respectable level of offense.
Opening day second base: Dustin Pedroia
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Holt
Other than Pedroia at second and David Ortiz at DH, Xander has the biggest lock on his position. If Bogaerts can build on his productive September he will be counted on to provide right handed power, especially if Cespedes and /or Napoli are traded. Bogaerts will have at least all of 2015 to show he is a MLB caliber shortstop. One year
from now, Deven Marrero may enter the discussion if he can hit at Pawtucket like he did at Portland in'14 and in the Arizona Fall League, not like he did at Pawtucket last year.
Likely Opening day shortstop: Xander Bogarts backed up by Brock Holt.
This position is as unsettled as second and short are locked up. Francisco and Holt have been mentioned all ready. Holt could be the starting third baseman for Boston next year, but the club will be much better with a more established player. Holt after his red hot June and July, slumped badly in the last two months although it went largely unnoticed in the rubble. Holt is a utility player ( maybe a damed good one), he should not be starting anywhere for a contender.
Middlebrooks, if he is still with the Red Sox will need to go to Pawtucket and prove he can hit and hit for power, and he will be joined there by Cecchini. To get at bats for both, they both will need to play third and other spots. First Base (Will) and Left field (Garin) are likely targets along with DH.
In other words Boston has no incumbents to play third at all ( maybe, Holt). That is why the aggressive pursuit of Pablo Sandoval, the switch hitting post season hero(times three) of the Giants. Pablo would fit the offensive and defensive needs at third. The Sox offer is reported to be 5 years/$95M. I bet by Thanksgiving Day this is over. I still have a strong suspicion the Panda stays in San Francisco. If so, then what? Hanley Ramirez is next on the free agent lists for third. Actually, H Ram is on the list at shortstop, but he and his agents have signified his willingness to play anywhere: short, third, first, outfield. But his price tag is likely to be higher than Sandoval. maybe much higher. Between that and his sometimes bad clubhouse reputation, I think the Sox steer clear of their former #1 prospect farmhand. Chase Headley is next for free agents, I personally am not a fan of this move, but he does hit lefty and is an outstanding defensive player. I think the questions around A Rod will cause the Yankees to retain Headley, whom they acquired from the Padres in July. The only other free agent who could play third but is more of a middle infielder is former Red Sox Jed Lowrie. Lowrie would also make a good back up at second and shortstop, but I suspect Jed may go to a place with more playing time available at his more normal positions.
If the Sox strike out completely in the free agent market, whom could the