Red Sox

Projecting Red Sox 26-man Opening Day roster includes many questions

Projecting Red Sox 26-man Opening Day roster includes many questions

Usually, the exercise of predicting the Red Sox opening day roster isn't particularly taxing. We could normally name about 24 spots in December.

Welcome to 2020, however, a most abnormal year. With the opener in Toronto barely a month away, we still have to answer some basic questions, like whether the team will employ a fifth starter, who'll be starting at second base, and how the outfield will align.

With Mookie Betts and David Price gone, and San Diego's Wil Myers possibly joining the fold this spring, the Red Sox remain in flux. It may just be their state of being all year.

In any event, here's our best guess at the expanded 26-man roster.

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Catchers (2): Christian Vazquez, Jonathan Lucroy

Vazquez emerged as a legit power threat, blasting a career-high 23 homers while compiling a .798 OPS. His defense was spotty, with too much emphasis on throwing out base stealers, and not enough on actually receiving the ball. He's in the middle of an affordable three-year, $13.5 million extension, but there's no guarantee new baseball boss Chaim Bloom will be as loyal to him as predecessor Dave Dombrowski was.

The backup spot looked like Kevin Plawecki's when camp opened, but the arrival of Lucroy, a two-time All-Star recovering from neck surgery, could change things. Lucroy played for interim manager Ron Roenicke in Milwaukee, and it's worth noting that on his first day in camp, he was catching ace Chris Sale.

Infielders (7): Mitch Moreland, Jose Peraza, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Michael Chavis, Jonathan Arauz, Bobby Dalbec

The infield includes two rocks and then varying pebbles. The left side isn't going anywhere, with Bogaerts and Devers anchoring what should be a strength of the team. The former is coming off an all-MLB season, while the latter was only a slow April away from making his first All-Star team. The Red Sox are counting on both to be at least as good as they were last year.

First baseman Mitch Moreland remained unsigned for most of the offseason before returning to Boston, and if the team is judicious with his usage, the oft-injured left-handed slugger could have some value. He may end up in a platoon with Chavis, who's unlikely to win a second base job that the team has pretty clearly earmarked for Peraza, a Reds non-tender with a decent pedigree as a former prospect.

In a perfect world, Peraza would probably play a little bit of everywhere, but with Dustin Pedroia effectively finished and Chavis more suited to a corner, he'll get a chance to win the job at second. That leaves the utility job for Arauz, a 21-year-old Rule 5 pick from the Astros with the ability to play second, third, and short.

We'll give the final spot to Dalbec, a slugging first baseman with an outstanding glove who could earn the call while outfielder Alex Verdugo rehabs a back injury.

Outfielders (3): Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Pillar

Eventually, this group will number four, once Verdugo joins the mix. The only question is who starts where. Roenicke has suggested that he's intrigued by the idea of Bradley in right field, where his arm plays and the unique configuration of Fenway Park calls for a defensive whiz like Betts. Normally, the club wouldn't consider moving the Gold Glover out of center field, but Roenicke has options, because Pillar is human highlight reel of his own. The newcomer has already vowed to play right, but Roenicke may have other ideas.

This will be a big season for Benintendi in left. He came to camp both leaner and stronger than last year, and he's the player most capable of picking up some of the slack left by Betts' departure. He needs to break through at age 25, because a repeat of last year's meh production (.266-13-68-.774) won't cut it, especially if he's batting leadoff.

Verdugo is the wild card. The stress fracture in his back is expected to heal, eventually, and the 23-year-old should become the starting right fielder with the potential to hit over .300 once he returns.

DH (1): J.D. Martinez

The best DH in baseball surprised a lot of us by opting in to his contract, but it turns out he had nowhere to go.

This will almost certainly be his last season in a Red Sox uniform, especially if the NL adds the DH in 2021. The slugger might be the most important player in the lineup, because he welcomes the pressure of being the focus of rival pitchers, and he allows everyone else to slot into their roles.

Starting pitchers (4): Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez

It's quite the statement on the state of the staff that there's not a (5) in that heading. The Red Sox are almost certainly headed towards an opener for their fifth spot, a result not just of the trade of David Price to the Dodgers, but also a lack of organizational depth that Bloom will need more time to address.

Even the settled spots contain question marks. Sale is coming off the worst season of his career, but arrived at spring training in a positive frame of mind following an elbow injury that cost him the final two months. Rodriguez is already battling a knee injury after slipping during a bullpen session -- though at least it's to his good knee and not the surgically repaired one -- and we still don't know if Eovaldi can last an entire season.

That leaves Perez and maybe an opener, though Roenicke has singled out junk-balling right-hander Ryan Weber as a potential fifth starter.

Relievers (9): Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden, Josh Osich, Ryan Weber, Chris Mazza

The Red Sox ended 2019 with a pretty good bullpen, particularly once rookie left-handers Hernandez and Taylor emerged as legit late-inning power arms. Given the year-over-year variance in reliever performance, it's hard to say if either will duplicate their success, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Workman projects to close, based on an otherworldly 2019, even if some of the underlying numbers suggest a regression is in order. He'll be followed by Barnes, who pitches best when he's not being asked to go every other day, as he was last June. Hembree is healthy and has been surprisingly effective when relying on his 95 mph fastball, and Walden was a workhorse last year.

The rest of the pen is wide open. Weber could get a nod as the multi-inning guy who piggybacks off the opener, while Osich was the first signing of the Bloom era following an up-and-down season with the White Sox. Mazza could be a dark horse candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation after eight years in the minors.

That leaves Ryan Brasier, Austin Brice, Brian Johnson, Colten Brewer, Jeff Springs, and Matt Hall among the group fighting it out for a spot at the back of the pen.

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.

 


 

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Nothing says Red Sox home game like iguanas, scorpions, and cacti, but these are desperate times.

Barring millions of instant tests or a miracle cure, COVID-19 will just be a fact of our pent-up, penned-in lives for the foreseeable future.

This makes embarking on the baseball season problematic, since one infection would theoretically sideline an entire team for two weeks, and good luck staying virus-free while flying all over the country. Visiting hot spots would not only increase a player's risk of illness, it would also up the odds of one becoming a vector himself, which is bad for the brand, not to mention public health.

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But what if baseball could maintain some control over its players' whereabouts while limiting travel to a fleet of buses? Could a season happen under these tightly managed circumstances? And if so, where?

It may be a long shot, but the more one considers the alternatives, the more it sounds like the best hope we've got is for MLB to hold its entire season in Arizona.

The logistics are nightmarish regardless, but in a situation this unprecedented, the fewer variables the better. And MLB won't find a higher concentration of acceptable facilities than in the 48th state.

The Cactus League features 10 ballparks that host 15 teams in two months of spring training. Unlike the far-flung Grapefruit League, with teams scattered across Florida's east and west coasts, the Arizona sites are compact.

Tomase: Hindsight 2020 - remember when the Red Sox built around the wrong All-Star?

Parks stretch from Mesa in the southeast to Surprise in the northwest, a drive of only 45 minutes. Everything else lies in between, a constellation of moons tightly orbiting Phoenix.

Decamping to the desert for the duration would eliminate air travel and give the league a chance to closely monitor its players. The challenge is Herculean: hosting roughly 800 players, plus at least that many coaches, staff, families, umpires, and broadcasters without anyone contracting the world's most contagious virus, against which we possess zero natural immunity.

Players would need to be quarantined in league-controlled hotels, tested constantly, and shuttled to and from the park. For such a plan to work, they'd have to sacrifice their most basic freedoms of movement, because a single failed test would grind the season to a halt while at least one team spends two weeks in isolation, potentially triggering a cascade of shutdowns, too (the mere possibility of which prompted the NBA to suspend its season, after all).

Convincing the union to sign off on such draconian restrictions won't be easy, but the alternative may very well be no baseball.

The games would be made-for-TV events without fans. If each ballpark hosted one or two games a day, a regular schedule could be played.

The challenges would be enormous. Do three teams share one clubhouse? Could ballpark and hotel staff be expected to live in isolation as well to avoid infection? How long could players live like prisoners? Will testing capacity ramp up enough to accommodate an entire league? Are the results even reliable? And how would teams keep their facilities germ-free if they're in use all day?

Politics matter, too. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey only belatedly ordered a stay-at-home order on Monday, and it has drawn criticism from the state's mayors as one of America's weakest, with exceptions for "essential" services like golf courses, nail salons, and hotels. If Arizona experiences an outbreak, then this little thought experiment dies on the vine. The same goes for extending the order past its current April 30 expiration and into the summer.

But we're here to ponder best-case scenarios, not fill your heads with more unrelenting negativity. And though the task would be monumental, if there's to be a baseball season, our best bet might be to play it in the desert.