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 they trade for?
Here is a list of third basemen (or in two cases potential third basemen) mentioned by national media as possibly available.
Utley and Walker, of course, are career second basemen. Utely could be very available in the upcoming expected Phillies rebuild. Taking Utley's salary on top of Hamels could facilitate a deal for Phils pitcher. Walker has been lightly reported to be maybe available because he is getting to arbitration and therefore more expensive for Pittsburgh.
There was a report during the World Series that during the '14 seaon the Sox and Royals had discussed a change of scenery swap of disappointing young third basemen: Moustakos for Middlebrooks. After that post season for Moustakos that ship has probably sailed.
Speaking of World Series performances, Freese is still getting by on his from 2011. Unless the Sox strike out everywhere else and could trade a warm body or two to the Angels, I hope they are uninterested.
Chris Johnson is another player the Braves are looking to move for salary relief, although he does not make all that much (in Red Sox terms). He hits from the right side, making the son of former Sox coach, Ron Johnson less attractive.
Josh Donaldson's name was being thrown around by ESPN's Buster Olney, who admitted it was pure speculation on his part. The A's have denied he is available, but if he is the Sox should dive in even though Josh is a right handed slugger. They can find a lefty bat to play elsewhere. Ben Cherington has been talking with Billy Beane, you can count on that.
Lonnie Chisenhall would seem to be completely unavailable from Cleveland after his break out 2014 in which he hit 13 home runs with a .280 BA and .343 OBP at age 25. But reportedly the Tribe would listen because of his rising salary and some other minor league infielders coming along.
Pedro Alvarez. I saved the most intriguing for last. Here are the checkmarks in the plus column. Hits left handed, has tremendous power with 30 home runs in 2012 and led the NL with 36 in 2013. A former Red Sox draft pick whom they tried very, very hard to sign before he went off to Vanderbilt. He is only 27 years old. What is there not to like? Well, Pedro is a third baseman who apparently can no longer throw the ball to first. Alvarez had more than 20 throwing errors in 2014. The Pirates, in another deal that has happened so far this winter that could indirectly involve the Sox( in other words prevent this deal for Alvarez from happening), cut first baseman Ike Davis with a stated intention to move Pedro there. Errors and all I would very tempted to trade for Alvarez at a reasonable cost, and if he cannot handle third, when Napoli is traded for pitching, Pedro is your slugging first baseman. And heir apparent to David Ortiz.
Likely Opening day third baseman: If not Sandoval, I have no friggin idea. If I had to guess I would say some mystery candidate not mentioned above. Also if not Pablo, another backup player may be added.
DH: David Ortiz. I was tempted to type the two words David Ortiz and stop right there. But there is one issue. David had a birthday this week and he is now 39. That number 39 and counting is why persons like Pablo Sandoval and Pedro Alvarez are mentioned as heirs to Papi. The day is coming and this is a team whose power and production is built on the shoulders of a man less than one calendar year from turning 40.
Opening day DH: Big Papi, who is the short list of candidates for the most charismatic Boston sports figure of all time.
Outfield: I was going to list left, center, and right with separate list of candidates but the outfield jumble is so massive with just about all of the players likely to be in play for more than one of the slots I decided to lump them all together. Also any of these names could be traded before Opening Day 2015 Here are the incumbents:
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
All nine of these guys could be legitimate big league outfielders in 2015. Before we sort this list, let's take a look at three transactions all ready made this winter that potentially impacted this outfield. First the Jason Heyward trade to St. Louis. Despite the seeming incongruity of bringing in another out fielder the Sox had expressed interest in Heyward before and he is a prototypical right fielder for Fenway. He is a free agent in one year, so if the Cards do not re-up him this discussion can wait until next year. The mega deal for $325M Giancarlo Stanton signed to stay in Miami put an end to the "trade to Boston for all of our good prospects" rumors. This could have a silver lining, at least it gives some certainty to the Sox dealing this winter. As in do we deal a key prospect or two for pitching or another star player or do we hold our powder for Stanton? Now they know Stanton is off the market. The transaction that maybe blocked a Sox trade partner was Michael Cuddyer signing with the Mets. There seem to be an interest from the Mets in Cespedes, and the Mets have some young pitching to trade. Zack Wheeler is an especially attractive target, who may not be had for Yoenis straight up but a package could have built from that starting point. Not now, most likely.
Back to the incumbent list of nine. Brentz and Bradley, Jr. are likely ticketed to Pawtucket, if they are not traded this winter. Brentz is not an established big leaguer, but he has the much sought after right handed power. If at least three of the other names are dealt, Brentz could work into a platoon in left field. Bradley, Jr. despite playing nearly a full big league season in '14 needs to go back to AAA to re-establish his offensive game. If JBJ could find the stroke he had before last year, he could still be a productive big league Gold Glove center fielder. Ben Cherington has all ready stated a number of teams have asked about JBJ because they also still see him as a starting center fielder. One team that had reported interest in Bradley, Jr. was Detroit, with their cavernous center field at Comerica Park. But the Tigers went another route acquiring Anthony Gose from Toronto and have stated he is their center fielder.
Holt has been discussed elsewhere, he will not be a regular outfielder on this team, but could spent some time there as utility guy. Nava reportedly has drawn trade interest from several teams, but at this moment his ability to bat from the left side gives him a asset the Sox need. Now, if more than one other left handed stick is obtained, Nava could be traded. As mentioned earlier, I could see Nava in the first base mix if Napoli is traded or injured.
Victorino and Craig are both veteran guys, but not so old as to be over the hill with certainty. Both have had very strong years as recently as 2013, when they helped lead their respective teams to the World Series. Their range of possible outcomes for 2015 is from productive starting players to trade candidates to subs to release candidates. Until their health issues are evaluated in the spring and maybe into the early part of the 2015 campaign, they are both mysteries. It is possible one or both could be traded this winter if the Sox ate much of their remaining contracts. If either Cespedes or Napoli are swapped the opportunities for playing time increase for both of these vets.
The remaining three names, Yoenis Cespedes, Mookie Betts, and Rusney Castillo at this moment are the most likely starting outfield on Opening Day. Where in the garden is the question. The Sox want Cespedes to play in right to take advantage of his world class arm, Yoenis seems to prefer left. Castillo could play any of the three, as could Betts. If the Sox convince Cespedes to play right, Rusney's arm is better than Betts so Mookie could take left and Castillo center.
Betts and Castillo are by far the least likely of the current outfielders to be traded. Cespedes may be the most likely to go. One strong reason why Yoenis may stay is the hiring of new batting coach, Chili Davis, who worked with Cespedes in Oakland. Davis came through the door at Fenway after his hiring, raving about the great player he thought Cespedes is. The combination of his contract walk year in '15 and working with Chili may produce an All Star season from Yoenis.
One last note on both Betts and Castillo. It is not out of the realm of possibility one or both need some more AAA seasoning, although I think (and believe the Sox feel the same) it is not likely. If true, JBJ could force his way back into the starting CF job in April at least.
Likely Opening Day outfield: LF Betts CF Castillo RF Cespedes
Backups Victorino, Nava/Craig/Holt all also infielders).
A couple last notes on the starting pitchers front. First, Jon Lester's return is looking to be a better proposition than it seemed weeks ago. Not a done deal, though. Here is one other transaction that has all ready gone down, which may hurt the Sox chances in the Lester sweepstakes. Russell Martin signing a 5 year/$82.5M deal with the Jays. What in the world does that have to with Lester? Well, the Cubs believed to be the Sox top competitor for Jon were widely believed to have Martin as their top target, maybe even more than Lester. Now whatever 50-70M or so the Cubs were saving for Martin could be pushed in Lester's direction. Something to watch.
One free agent pitcher I overlooked in the post of free agent targets was Japanese League star, Kenta Maeda. Maeda recently pitched a strong game versus the touring MLB All Star team. Maeda, who is 6'0" 160 is considered by most scouts to be a big league starter but more of a mid to back rotation type of guy. The 27 year old, with a seven year career ERA in Japan of 2.44 has been extensively scouted by Boston. He has yet to be posted, but is expected to be.
Finally, after writing a post about the length of War and Peace (as is this one come to think of it) on trade candidates for the rotation I managed to miss one. One that has since been linked to Boston from several different reports. He is Andrew Cashner, 28 year old righty of the Padres. Cashner is a big, 6'6' 220 and has a career ERA in the NL of 3.25. His current claim to fame is the Padres traded Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs for him, straight up. Cashner is the right age and performance to be the kind of guy Boston wants and the Padres are reportedly shopping pitching( Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Cashner) for offense. Cashner is a definite name to look for during the winter meetings.
To recap I think one of the most interesting things about this roster, with the major exceptions of third base and the front two rotation spots, is this club that finished in last place could return....likely will return... incumbent players at every offensive spot but third. Unless Ben and the boys shake things up more than expected. We may find out in the next three weeks or so.