Pitchers and catchers don't report until next week, but after a long winter of discontent, we can finally start envisioning what the opening day Red Sox roster might look like.
We know who's gone. That would be Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi, to name three. In their place, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has bet on a series of mid-level acquisitions, as well as taking a big roll of the dice on Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida.
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They might be better than we think, but as the following exercises suggests, a lot needs to break their way.
Starting pitchers (5): LHP Chris Sale, RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Garrett Whitlock, RHP Brayan Bello, RHP Nick Pivetta
The first four names are locks, assuming they're healthy. Despite his recent travails, Sale remains the most proven pitcher on the staff. Kluber may no longer be a Cy Young candidate, but he's solid. Whitlock and Bello probably possess the best pure stuff on the staff. That leaves the final spot between Pivetta and veteran left-hander James Paxton. The former led the American League in starts last year. The latter had his return from Tommy John cut short by a lat injury. In matters of who makes the roster, I'm betting on the healthy guy.
Relievers (8): RHP Kenley Jansen, RHP Chris Martin, RHP John Schreiber, RHP Tanner Houck, LHP Richard Bleier, RHP Ryan Brasier, LHP Joely Rodriguez, RHP Kutter Crawford
Bloom has remade his bullpen, shifting from a reliance on stuff to command. In the last few months, he has said goodbye to Hirokazu Sawamura, Matt Barnes, Matt Strahm, Austin Davis, and Jake Diekman. With the exception of Strahm, they all posted obscene walk rates. Martin, meanwhile, led the league in that category last year, and he joins strike throwers like Schreiber, Bleier, and Brasier.
While there's a chance Houck starts -- especially given the ongoing injury concerns with Sale, Kluber, and even Whitlock -- he probably opens the season here. I'm giving the final spot to Crawford because I don't believe every starter will be healthy on opening day, and if Paxton isn't healthy enough to start, he won't be healthy enough to relieve, either.
Catchers (2): Reese McGuire, Jorge Alfaro
A non-roster guy often makes the cut out of camp, and there's a chance that Alfaro wrests away a starting job. McGuire, after all, had a nice couple of months in Boston to close the season, but is otherwise a career backup, while ostensible reserve Connor Wong is unproven.
Alfaro has power -- he hit 18 homers for the Marlins in 2019 -- and has actually caught over 100 games twice. He recently signed a minor league deal and probably wouldn't be sniffing the roster in a normal year, but there's a real opportunity for him to make the team.
Infielders (6): 1B Triston Casas, 2B Christian Arroyo, 3B Rafael Devers, SS Kiké Hernández, DH/3B Justin Turner, 2B/SS Adalberto Mondesi, 1B/3B Bobby Dalbec
With Trevor Story sidelined indefinitely following elbow surgery, the Red Sox find themselves awfully thin up the middle. Hernández will shift from center to short, and the injury-prone Christian Arroyo gets second. If Mondesi's torn ACL isn't healed in time for opening day, it's hard to say who'll be backing up either of them. Non-roster invitee Niko Goodrum? Young speedster David Hamilton? Former Astros prospect Enmanuel Valdez?
The Red Sox feel better about the corners, where Rafael Devers is an All-Star and Casas could develop into a 30-homer threat, with Turner available to take some reps when he isn't DHing. If Dalbec makes the team, his ability to play some outfield will probably be a factor.
Outfielders (4): LF Masataka Yoshida, CF Adam Duvall, RF Alex Verdugo, OF Rob Refsnyder
It feels like the Red Sox played musical chairs and stopped with everyone just a little out of position. By all accounts, Yoshida projects to be an average defender at best. That pushes Verdugo, a decent left fielder, to the more challenging right. It also means that Duvall, a Gold Glove right fielder in 2021 with Braves, must become a full-time center fielder at age 34. If anyone goes down, Refsnyder proved last year that he can play center and also hit a little.