The Boston Red Sox attention quite naturally focuses on the key issues that face the team, but what about the bottom of the roster. Who will fill that final slot?
The Boston Red Sox face many decisions that will impact the product that is presented on the field for 2017.
On top of the list is the massive offensive hole created by the departure of David Ortiz. Rumors flutter about that signal a possible replacement that could be internal or the signing of a productive free agent.
The continuing saga of pitching confronts every team and Boston is certainly no exception. The final tally actually showed a reasonable successful staff and especially starters that were ranked number two in the American League according to Fangraphs. A positive is the Red Sox may actually have a bit of a glut at the starter slot and you may see a spring training competition for the coveted fifth rotation spot.
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The bullpen is in a state of flux and that is a situation that most teams confront in the offseason as they seek depth, but make that quality depth to shore up any potential leaks. Boston has some on the mend in Carson Smith and others who may test the free agent market. Arms are certainly available with varying degrees of ability and Boston will act.
The standard positions do have some question marks as consideration is given to third, left field and catcher. The primary concern in all three instances is will there be enough offense present so that the rest of the lineup is not taxed with a burden.
What drifts under the radar is the positions that are not positions and that means the bench. Boston certainly had some additional outfield swagger with a healthy Chris Young and may have some more with an equally healthy Blake Swihart.
The Red Sox are fortunate to have a super-sub available for duty at just about any position in Brock Holt. Holt did have some injury issues during 2016 that limited Holt to 94 games. Holt may or may not be a regular in left field, but will certainly be a baseball version of a basketball sixth man in the best John Havlicek tradition. But what you have left is one position that needs to be filled.
Josh Rutledge recently filed for free agency and will place his versatility on the open market. Rutledge had a comfortable stay in Boston and represented a valuable contributor off the bench in a limited role for two seasons with a slash of .276/.345/.388. Rutledge played second, third and short in his Boston and major league career and will presumably sign elsewhere.
So just who takes on the role of being essentially the 25th man on the roster?
Deven Marrero certainly has the defensive inclinations to do the job, but is woefully unskilled with the bat. Mike Miller made a brief Boston appearance and appears to be a career Triple-A player. Aaron Hill is a free agent and his defensive capabilities are sorely limited at his advanced baseball age. The last man standing is a player I have diligently followed for several years – Marco Hernandez.
Hernandez is a payment from the Cubs for Felix Doubront and that had the attachment of PTBNL or Player To Be Named Later. Such a designation usually coincides with not a snowball’s chance of making it to the Bigs. Of course, exceptions can be found such as Ortiz.
Hernandez simply started to hit and hitting draws attention. The now 24-year-old left-hand hitter came to Boston in 2016 for 40 games in which Marco slashed .294/.357/.373 with one home run and five RBI. Hernandez played at short, second and third in Boston. In 57 games at Pawtucket Hernandez hit .309.
The Red Sox roster is set and the loss of Rutledge certainly places Hernandez as the clear favorite to capture a roster slot. What may be of interest is to see any experimentation in the outfield for Hernandez to see if he is defensively capable and to open up potential opportunities.
In his rise in the Red Sox system, I would not discount Hernandez as a potential competitor for something beyond just wandering off the bench once a week. If his hitting continues to impress Hernandez just may be a competitor for third base.
At this point, Hernandez is your main man off the bench and that certainly limits competition in spring training unless Boston makes a few other signings.