While some facets of the Red Sox opening day roster are plain, there remain some questions – and potentially a surprise – about who will be in uniform March 31 against Baltimore.
The 25-man roster typically gives seven slots to the bullpen, but not all the pitchers who will fill those positions have separated themselves this spring. Right-handers Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa appear solid in their closing and setup roles, respectively. Lefty Chris Capuano seems set for a long relief role. Andrew Miller, another southpaw, likely will hold the position of left-handed specialist, although he has shown ability to get outs from batters on the right side of the plate as well. Edward Mujica, a free-agent strike thrower picked up during the off-season, seems destined as another setup man. That leaves room for two middle relievers.
Manager John Farrell would like to have two bullpen pitchers, preferably one each from the left and right side, who could give him more than an inning’s work. Burke Badenhop, another hot stove free-agent acquisition, is the likely candidate from the right side, but lefty Craig Breslow, who held the role in 2013, has yet to see game action this spring. The Red Sox appear to be exercising caution.
If Breslow is not ready to break camp with the rest of the team, there are ready options. Brandon Workman pitched effectively in relief last year, including the postseason. A right-hander, he has the build and promise to be an effective starter – and the Red Sox have started him twice during the preseason. There are several other starting pitcher prospects at the top end of the Red Sox’ farm system however, and the front office may see Workman as a future closer candidate. If so, putting him in the bullpen now makes sense. Lefty Drake Britton is another possibility. He pitched 21 innings over 18 games for the Red Sox last season. Though he has been effective most of the spring Britton was lit up by the Rays in an exhibition game earlier this week.
Workman and Britton are on the extended (40-man) roster. There are three veteran candidates who also could be considered for the middle-relief role, but any one of them would require a roster transaction: lefties Rich Hill and Jose Mijares and righty Francisco Cordero. Hill has pitched as a starter as well as in relief, including 34 games with the Red Sox in 2011-12, but also had a late start in training camp. Mijares is a journeyman reliever who has pitched exclusively in relief during a six-year major league career. He has not been impressive this spring so far though. Cordero, a three-time All Star, owns 329 saves in 14 seasons but missed all of 2013. He’s had a productive spring training however: no runs allowed in seven innings over seven games, with eight strike outs, one walk and four hits allowed. Codero could potentially could be mixed and matched with Mujica in middle and short relief.
It’s a safe assumption that Breslow will not be ready March 31, and a variety of options exist. Though Farrell would prefer a left-hander to take his place, he’ll default to the pitcher who has best upside. For now, that’s Cordero.