All of the Red Sox players are in Fort Myers, dozens of them came into camp days and weeks early. For a team coming off a last place AL East finish, there is very little uncertainty of the composition of the Opening Day 25 man roster. Barring the trade of an outfielder ( likely to very likely) or the acquisition of another starting pitcher (ace??), the only open spots are the last job or two in the bullpen. The other 25 man roster question to be answered is the outfield survivors. Around the infield (including catcher) is just about set in stone, barring any unforeseen injury:
Catcher: Christian Vazquez, backed up by Ryan Hanigan.
1B Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3b Pablo Sandoval
Utility Brock Holt
That is not to say there are not questions about this group, but you can bet these guys are the starters, and will have 7 of the 25 roster spots.
But as we move to the outfield, the list of candidates is long:
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
In his utility role, Brock Holt may play out here as well, but I bet it is way, way less in the garden as opposed to '14.
Let's start with one certainty. Hanley Ramirez is going to be the everyday left fielder, now by every day I mean 120-130 games, with another 20 or so at DH giving Big Papi a rest at age 39. Speaking of David Ortiz, out of anyone on this team he is a mortal lock to hold his spot, the DH and probably the number three hitter between Pedroia and Hanley. The question of course is how many more years can Big Papi produce. He showed no sign of stopping in the otherwise miserable 2014 and the 500 home run mark is another carrot out there for David. So give Hanley and David roster spots 8 and 9.
John Farrell has made two pronouncements regarding the outfield so far this spring. First "IF HEALTHY" Shane Victorino is the right fielder and in a connected statement, Farrell said Castillo, Betts, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. are in a competition for center field. More on these four gentlemen in a moment.
That leaves returnees Allen Craig and Daniel Nava, and rookie Bryce Brentz. Brentz, despite a decent September call up debut, has almost no chance to make this team barring multiple injuries. Despite that you keep hearing whispers the Sox are really intrigued by his plentiful right handed power. He will go to AAA. Nava and Craig, except for the fact Craig hits righty and Nava is best from the left, are for purposes of this roster the same player. Unless one or both of them have fantastic springs, there seems to be no way they are both on this roster. If they do have great springs (especially Craig, who has a three year history '11-'13 as one of the best NL hitters) there is a very slim chance Mike Napoli could traded for pitching and Craig and/or Nava could play first.
Either Nava or Craig are strong candidates to be traded, but even though Craig hit an abysmal .128 for Boston after being traded from St. Louis, I cannot shake the feeling this would be the classical sell-low deal and the Sox would lose out on Craig's comeback. But I just do not see where he gets at bats here.
Back to the CF/RF puzzle. I believe Farrell when he says Victorino if he can play is the starting right fielder. I just do not buy he will be healthy. Maybe on Opening Day but for how long? I think by June 1 or earlier if Victorino can play he will be traded. I am one of the few people left in Red Sox Nation who still thinks Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be a strong major league player. But right now, he will need to go back to AAA, and put up two strong offensive months, and then see where he fits.
I have been on record all winter saying the "regular" Red Sox outfield in '15 will be Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, and Mookie Betts, and I am sticking with it. All three will start at least 120 games in the Sox outfield. Now if the Sox start the year with Hanley and Vic on the corners, there still could be plenty of playing time for Rusney and Mookie. As Peter Gammons pointed out the other day there are 486 games to be started in the outfield (162 x 3), if you divide that by four you get about 121 games apiece.
Let's give roster spots 10 through 13 to Victorino, Betts, Castillo, and one of Craig/Nava. With a real good chance by June, Jackie Bradley is the fourth outfielder to Ramirez-Castillo-Betts.
Let's change our focus to pitching and look at the rotation. Here are the five names going into spring training ( and very likely the season). And roster spots 14 through 18.
A lot of rotational stability ( granted with ???'s for all) for a last place '14 team. Here are three questions around this rotation.
1. Will the Sox trade during spring training for Cole Hamels, or some other ace?
I still say no, certainly the Sox will not trade Mookie Betts or uber catching prospect, Blake Swihart for Hamels. I think Ben C and the Sox want to open the year with these five guys, knowing a trade can be made later.
2. In what order do these five starters lineup beginning on Opening Day?
The order I have above is my best guess, but I think the second name listed above, Porcello, will turn out to the ace ( whoops there is that word again) of the staff.
3. Can some of the next group of Sox pitching prospects grab spots in this rotation and how soon?
Here is the PawSox ( more on that near the end of this piece) projected rotation, all are candidates to push for a starting job in Boston during 2015.
LHP Henry Owens
RHP Matt Barnes
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
LHP Brian Johnson
LHP Edwin Escobar
RHP/KB Stephen Wright
First, let's jump back to Cole Hamels. If the Sox pull the trigger with Philadelphia, knowing it will not include Betts and Swihart, the package could begin with a lefty starter. Four AAA lefty starters, all in the top 15 Sox prospects as generally ranked. I think a package of one of the lefties (even Owens) plus young Class A outfielder, Manuel Margot plus maybe Garin Cecchini or Sean Coyle should be more than enough.
Barring injury to the front five, all six of these youngsters will go to AAA. If the Sox need a starter in April, it could be the knuckle baller Wright. Neither Owens or Johnson are on the 40 man roster, so unless they are absolutely lights out at Pawtucket, Barnes, Escobar, or Rodriguez will likely get a shot before the young lefties. Barnes could also help in the Boston pen during 2015.
Speaking of the pen, here are the guys most likely to be there.
Close Koji Uehara
Set up Junichi Tazawa
Lefties Robbie Ross
Now from our exercise above we have only left 7 bullpen spots, although Boston has often carried 8. To pare this list to seven, it possible the Sox carry only one lefty ( Tommy Layne is in the lefty competition as well). Anthony Vavarro, although right handed, actually has better career numbers against left handed hitters. The Braves, from whom the Sox acquired him, often used him like a lefty specialist.
The asterisks behind Mujica and Workman indicate only one spot available for these two to compete for, assuming Alexi Ogando is healthy and grabs a spot. Let us all hope Ogando is healthy because at his best, Alexi's gas in the bullpen is exactly what Boston needs. Mujica pitched much better after the All Star break in '14 ( 1.78 ERA), but he is also making $4.5 M in 2015 and there are reports the Sox are shopping him. By converting Workman to a relief pitcher full time, he could easily turn into Boston's answer to a Wade Davis type starter turned lights out bullpen arm.
Of course, Koji turns 40 on April 3, but with the exception of a bump last August, Koji is still striking out ten times the batters he walks. He will be fine, if his innings are managed a bit.
Let's say seven guys in the pen ( another way to get to eight would be to trade both Craig and Nava, leaving the four "regular" outfielders backed up by Holt.)
Two other big stories, with possible long term implications broke at the beginning of camp. First, the Red Sox won the Yoan Moncada sweepstakes (or for $31.5 million maybe I should Yoan Moncada won the Yoan Moncada sweepstakes!) This story had been flying under the radar all winter. Moncada is a 19 year old switch hitting infielder from Cuba. His age when leaving Cuba makes him a different case than many of recent Cuban imports (such Red Sox Rusney Castillo). But every international baseball observer feels if he was an American kid eligible for the draft, he would be the first overall pick.
There have been reports all winter the Red Sox were extremely interested, but many observers (including this one) thought the Yankees would go all in and pay any amount for Yoan. They did not. Neither did the Dodgers, the other team throwing around cash these days.
This is basically what happened. Because of Moncada's age and lack of playing in the Cuban major league, he was considered to be an international free agent, like the kids from the Dominican, Venezuela, or any other Latin American or Asian country. Since the last collective bargaining agreement, all of the MLB teams have a budget limit on what they can spend each signing season. Boston and the Yankees ( among other teams) were already over before Moncada. Boston went over last July when they signed two 16 year old pitchers Christopher Acosta and Anderson Espinosa, considered the two best international pitchers available this season. The penalty for going over is for the next two seasons you cannot sign any international player for more than $300,000. ( By the way the Cubs had gone over last year leaving them on the sidelines for Moncada.) The second part of the penalty is a 100% tax. For every dollar given to the player, the same amount goes to MLB. This is why the Red Sox spent $63M on this deal, 31.5M to each Moncada and to MLB.
The Red Sox thinking apparently went like this: we are already being penalized for the next two years. If another player like Moncada comes along in the next two years (doubtful, but maybe) we cannot sign him. Right now, they can sign anyone knowing the 100% tax is the only current penalty. The Dodgers, who were not over, decided not to go over to get Moncada, deciding to have the flexibility of the next two years knowing Boston and the Yanks are out of the competition.
But the Yankees, no one can figure out why they stopped at 25M ( with a verbal promise to go to 27M if Moncada would take that.) The Yankees have an opening at second base, a weaker farm system (although improving somewhat), and all the money in the world. And here is the kicker, as mentioned above they too are already over their international signing limit. They not only did not get Yoan Moncada, they cannot sign any other major name international talent for the next two years.
Moncada likely will need up to two years in the minors, but for you Maine fans do not be surprised to see Yoan hit Hadlock Field as a Portland Sea Dog this summer.
One last story that also broke this week will have at least a cosmetic change on the long time Red Sox AAA affiliate. The Pawtucket Red Sox were sold by Ben Mondor's widow to a group including several Rhode Island businessman and several Boston Red Sox partners, including Larry Lucchino. The same day the sale was announced word leaked out through the Pawtucket and Providence mayors offices, the new owners hope to build a new riverfront ball park near I 195 in downtown Providence by 2017.
So even though geographically it would be a small move, it would end the AAA team being known as the Paw Sox. Just keep your hands off the AA team, guys, OK?
Spring Training is underway and let the games begin...next week in Florida.