With pitchers and catchers having reported on Wednesday, Spring Training for the 2021 season has officially begun. And with that, it’s the perfect time to take a guess at what the Red Sox roster will look like when they face against the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day on April 1. After a down 2020 season, the Sox are looking to be surprise contenders this season and have been working hard this offseason to improve the roster. With manager Alex Cora back in the fold after his yearlong suspension, Sox fans are hoping this year will be a much more watchable season than last year was.
We’ll go by position group breaking down who deserves to be on the Opening Day roster, starting with the position that is under the most scrutiny following last year’s lack of success: Starting pitchers.
Starting Pitchers – 6
Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Tanner Houck, Garrett Richards, Matt Andriese
The first two names on this list aren’t debatable – Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi are going to have to carry the Sox rotation this year, at least until the potential return of another name that I’ll get to later. Martin Perez will also be on the major league roster as their third starter. As for the last three names on that list, it’s a toss up. Tanner Houck has more potential and had a nice start to his MLB career last year, but he still has minor league options. Will the Sox decide to go for it off the bat and keep him on the 26-man roster or will they send him down because he’s the only pitcher they can do it with? Here’s to hoping they keep him in the majors, because based on what we saw last year, the kid can pitch. Yes, he’s still learning, but the best way to do that is by facing the best competition. Garrett Richards and Matt Andriese will look to fill out the back end of the rotation, but can also serve as an extension of the bullpen if needed.
Remember the return teased earlier? Obviously, the missing name from this list is Chris Sale. While there’s no official timeline for his return, the Sox hope that he can make a late-season appearance as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. It generally takes pitchers a little while to get back into a groove after having their elbows sewn back together, but having 75% of Chris Sale is better than 100% of some of the Sox other options. However, with Sale out to start the year, this is the group I expect the Sox to bring into Opening Day.
Relief Pitchers – 8
Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, Ryan Brasier, Darwinzon Hernandez, Hirokazu Sawamura, Josh Taylor, Garrett Whitlock*, FA/Trade Acquisition
The Sox bullpen is one of the more difficult positions to predict, especially the back end of this group. At the top though, the Red Sox should be okay with a group headlined by Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino. In case you haven’t seen Ottavino’s slider, check it out. It’s nasty.
Ryan Brasier has shown that he can be a good middle inning guy, and Darwinzon Hernandez throws absolute gas from the left side. Hirokazu Sawamura is a nice FA signing from Japan who will be looking to follow the Hideki Okajima/Junichi Tazawa/Koji Uehara path here in Boston. As for the last two non-asterisk spots, it gets iffy. Josh Taylor has had some good moments, but also struggles to get out major league hitters at times. Having another lefty arm in the pen would definitely be nice, but giving this spot to someone like Phillips Valdez or Colten Brewer wouldn’t be a surprise either. And as for the last “name” on this list, it seems like Boston still needs to go out and get somebody else for this group. There are still some established names on the free agent market such as Tyler Clippard or Shane Greene, but the Sox could also trade for someone to compete for the closer role. Barnes and Ottavino, though both able to pitch the 9th inning, are better as setup men, so getting a true closer would be huge for this group. If they don’t make a move, then look for Valdez or Brewer to get the call.
Finally, about the asterisk. The Sox are kind of forced to keep Garrett Whitlock on their roster this year. As a Rule 5 pick, if they don’t keep him on the roster, he gets returned to the New York Yankees, which is where the Red Sox took him from. Obviously, the Sox see potential in him if they deemed him worthy of picking, so expect him to hold onto a bottom of the roster spot, and maybe even make a contribution out of the pen this year.
Catchers – 2
Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki
No surprises here. Christian Vazquez is the Sox lead catcher, but Plawecki will serve as a more-than-capable backup. Over the last few years, Vazquez has gone from a defense-first catcher to one of the better all-around backstops in the American League, and that should continue again this season. While the Sox have other options, such as Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez, it would be a surprise if either of them see much time in the majors this season.
Infielders – 5
Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Bobby Dalbec, Kiké Hernandez, Yairo Muñoz
These first four are pretty set. Bogaerts and Devers form one of the best left-side combinations in the league, while Dalbec burst onto the scene in his abbreviated rookie season. With three spots basically locked down, only second base is left. And while recent signing Marwin Gonzalez (we’ll see him in the next group) will likely see some time there, it looks like Kiké Hernandez has the inside track to being the starting second baseman when the season opens up. Realistically, Gonzalez and Hernandez are pretty interchangeable: both will be on the roster, it’s just a matter of where they will play. Finally, Yairo Muñoz gets the nod here as the Sox 26th man. He’ll play everywhere on days when people need rest, including the outfield. One name missing from this list? Michael Chavis. I’m just not sure there’s a spot for him. He hasn’t really improved much since his debut two years ago, and with the Red Sox improving the roster in other areas, I don’t know where they could squeeze him on. Maybe they drop a pitcher to carry him, or swap him and Muñoz, but as of now I have Chavis on the outside looking in.
Outfielders – 4
Alex Verdugo, Marwin Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe
One of the few Red Sox players that had a good year last season, Alex Verdugo, the centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade, will look to continue to try to live up to the expectations in right field. Behind him, it’s going to be a platoon system. Maybe Hunter Renfroe grabs the left field job and doesn’t let go after the Sox traded Andrew Benintendi. The more likely situation is that the Sox have a four-guys-in-three-positions platoon with Gonzalez, Cordero, Renfroe, and Hernandez moving around to fill second base, center field, and left field. And that’s not to mention days where J.D. Martinez (more on him next) slides into left field out of his usual DH spot. That’s how the season will probably start, at least until somebody makes a convincing case to hold onto a spot.
Designated Hitter- 1
Duh. Since his arrival in Boston, Martinez has been nothing short of one of the best hitters in baseball. Even though he struggled last season, there were so many weird circumstances surrounding the season that it’s tough to look too much into his struggles. He’ll return to the hitter we all know him to be, doing most of his damage as a DH but occasionally sliding into the outfield.
Of course, injuries, trades, and maybe a signing or two are going to throw all this away because that’s just how the MLB season works. But as of now, this is how I see the Red Sox roster shaking out for Opening Day. It looks improved from last year, so hopefully Boston will be right back into contention in the tough American League.
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