Projecting Boston’s Opening Day Roster
Sep 11, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers (11) balances the baseball on his bat during batting practice against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
The Boston Red Sox have experienced an offseason of chaos.
It started in October when the club introduced former Tampa Bay Rays executive Chaim Bloom as Chief Baseball Officer.
Once Bloom was brought in, the club faced many questions. Would Mookie Betts, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. be on the team moving forward? Would J.D. Martinez pick up his player option? Would Dustin Pedroia retire?
All of those questions came during an MLB investigation into a potential cheating scandal involving the 2018 World Series-winning Red Sox. This led to the dismissal of Alex Cora, as well as the club’s search for his successor –– Ron Roenicke announced as interim manager on Tuesday.
The MLB offseason, however, has come to an end with pitchers and catchers reporting to Fort Myers on Tuesday.
On Monday, Bloom and Red Sox ownership finally answered the burning question on the Mookie Betts situation by trading him and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo, baseball’s 44th overall prospect in Jeter Downs, and catching prospect Connor Wong.
Betts and Price will not be with the club when the Red Sox play their season opener on March 26 in Toronto. But who will?
Catchers: Kevin Plawecki, Christian Vazquez
These two are the only catchers on the 40 man roster, making this the easiest position to predict. Vazquez comes off a breakout campaign in which he posted career highs in slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, runs batted in, walks, wins above replacement, and DRC+.
Plawecki hasn’t made his mark in the MLB during his five seasons, but Bloom signed him to a one-year deal to serve as the team’s backup catcher after they traded Sandy Leon to Cleveland.
Infielders: Xander Bogaerts, Michael Chavis, Rafael Devers, Mitch Moreland, Jose Peraza.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Everyone listed here is a lock. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers represent the future of the Red Sox and, with Peraza and Moreland both being signed to deals in free agency, they should be locks to be with the team on Opening Day. Chavis was explosive when he burst onto the scene last season, but injuries derailed the end of his rookie campaign.
He’s a lock too, despite his lack of experience.
I left two players off of this list: Bobby Dalbec and Dustin Pedroia. Dalbec has the talent to make the roster, there’s no questioning that, but what is in question is his potential niche with the team. Peraza serves as a utility man and likely second baseman, and Chavis and Moreland will platoon at first base (with Chavis likely getting some reps in at second, too), leaving no room for Dalbec in an already crowded infield.
Rather than complicate a rookie season, it’s likely Dalbec starts 2020 in the minors, regardless of how he performs in Spring Training.
As for Pedroia, we know he’ll be the team’s starting second baseman if he’s healthy, but that’s exactly it: he won’t be. Pedroia has played nine games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined, and there’s no reason to think he’s turning a corner after another significant setback said to put his career in jeopardy just three weeks ago.
Dalbec (or a healthy Pedroia) can make an impact for the Red Sox in 2020, but I expect the team to keep it simple when the season begins in Toronto.
Outfielders: Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo.
For the first Opening Day since 2014, the Red Sox outfield will not include Mookie Betts. Betts was a generational talent who remains among a select group of players in all of baseball. But don’t get it twisted, this is an outfield filled with talent.
Benintendi had what many considered to be a down year in 2019 (in which he still posted relatively modest numbers). But let’s not forget what he accomplished in Boston’s 2018 World Series title run, as well as his efforts in 2017 that earned him runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Bradley continues to be one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball, and though inconsistent, a good enough hitter when he’s hot. We know what he is, and that’s a respectable everyday outfielder and fan-favorite.
J.D. Martinez opted into his contract (at least until next offseason, where he can opt-out again). Since joining Boston, he’s slugged 79 home runs, driven in 235 runs, and posted a .317/.392/.593 slash line. All of those rank near-tops in the MLB over the last two seasons. Though more of a designated hitter, Martinez will serve as the Red Sox’ fourth outfielder in 2020 unless they bring someone in from outside of the organization (which seems unlikely at this point).
Verdugo is the club’s only addition to the outfield this offseason, but he is not to be ignored. In his first full season with the Dodgers, Verdugo posted modest numbers: a .294/.342/.475 slash line with 12 home runs and 101 hits. The 23-year-old only struck out 49 times in 377 plate appearances, which shows good discipline for a rookie. He looks to slide into the vacancy left behind in right field.
Marcus Wilson is the club’s only other outfielder on the 40 man roster and doesn’t project to be an MLB caliber player in 2020, so if Boston wants to add someone to this list, it will have to come from outside the organization.
Starting Rotation: Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale.
Now onto the less impressive side of the Red Sox roster: the pitching staff.
The pitching dropped off significantly for the Red Sox in 2019, and it will be interesting to see if they can rebound with largely different staff in 2020.
As far as starting pitchers are concerned, the Red Sox carry just four, and I expect them to keep it that way. Bloom was a major believer in bullpen games in Tampa Bay, and I expect him to carry that over to Boston in 2020 and fill the fifth rotation spot by doing so.
As for the actual rotation, it definitely has its questions. Eovaldi comes off an injury-riddled season in which he was scarcely used as a starter when healthy. He even spent time as a reliever. The Red Sox will have to rely on his arm to stay healthy if they want some consistency from the rotation in 2020, and we all know about Eovaldi’s poor track record when it comes to health.
Perez is the only natural starter that Bloom acquired in the offseason, and he’s certainly not a lockdown pitcher. He’ll likely mirror a Rick Porcello-like guy in the back end of the rotation whose main purpose is to eat innings.
Rodriguez on the other hand, broke out in 2019, finishing top-10 in the American League Cy Young voting. He’ll look to build on that in 2020, solidifying his position in the top half of the rotation.
Lastly, there’s Sale, who still serves as the club’s ace, but took a major step back in 2019, producing career-lows or near-career lows in all areas. He’ll look to bounce back in 2020, and be even half of what he was for the Red Sox in 2017 and 2018.
Bullpen: Matt Barnes, Colten Brewer, Austin Brice, Matt Hall, Heath Hembree, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Osich, Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden, Ryan Weber, Brandon Workman.
I’ll spare you the time of breaking down every single pitcher on this list. In short, the Red Sox bullpen is very analytic heavy. Many of the pitchers on this list don’t have very impressive MLB track records but have promising analytical vitals, and that’s what’s brought them here. This is true for Colten Brewer’s spin rate, Matt Hall’s fastball, and Austin Brice’s curveball.
Many of these guys are projects, but the Red Sox threw less promising ideas at the wall hoping they would stick last season; so actually trying to build a bullpen of some kind is an improvement, at least.
If you’re looking for some names for potential breakout seasons: Darwinzon Hernandez is young, explosive, and will only get better; and I’m optimistic about Brice, Brewer, Hall, and Osich’s ceilings, though it’s unlikely they all pan out. Workman was a powerhouse in 2019, he’ll be less dominant, but still a force in the Boston pen in 2020.
Boston consistently carried eight or nine relievers on the 25 man roster last season. With an extra roster spot implemented this offseason via a rule change, and a likely addition of bullpen games throughout the season, expect the Red Sox to carry even more relievers (eleven, to be exact), when they start the season in Toronto on March 26.