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.