Red Sox: Competition for final bench spots is wide open
The battle for the Boston Red Sox bench spots is wide open
Opening Day is only a week away and the Boston Red Sox are still finalizing their roster. The primary 26-man roster is essentially set but MLB is allowing teams to carry two extra players in April to address the concerns of the shorter training camp schedule that was rushed in the aftermath of the lockout. That leaves the Red Sox with two roster spots to fill.
According to MLB.com’s Ian Browne, the competition is wide open with five players fighting for two spots. Jonathan Arauz, Travis Shaw, Rob Refsnyder, Franchy Cordero and Yolmer Sanchez all remain in camp to make their case for claiming a roster spot.
Arauz appears to have the inside track since he’s already on the 40-man roster. He’s a versatile defender who can cover three infield positions. Depth up the middle will be essential with Trevor Story expected to receive a few extra days off early in the season due to his late arrival in camp.
Christian Arroyo is the primary backup at second base but his wide splits suggest he should see most of his at-bats against lefties. The switch-hitting Arauz might be the better option to fill in against right-handed pitchers, although we shouldn’t expect much offense from him regardless of who is on the mound.
Shaw hit .200 with a .659 OPS in 84 games split between the Brewers and Red Sox last season. He has failed to record a hit or a walk while striking out seven times in 17 plate appearances this spring, so he’s not exactly earning his way into a roster spot. The veteran is a fan-favorite and a positive clubhouse influence. Those traits might be enough to warrant a spot at the end of the bench, but we shouldn’t expect a return to the peak form he displayed in Milwaukee following the ill-fated Tyler Thornburg trade.
If Shaw’s swing gets back on track, his left-handed bat could complement Bobby Dalbec at first base to provide depth at the position until Triston Casas is ready for his major league debut.
Refsnyder provides a right-handed bat who could platoon with Jackie Bradley Jr. in right field. The additional outfield depth would mitigate the need to use J.D. Martinez in the outfield when JBJ sits against a lefty.
He’s had the chance to prove himself this spring, tying for the team lead with 11 appearances and second on the team with 23 at-bats, but Refsnyder hasn’t done much with that opportunity, hitting .174 with a .661 OPS.
Cordero has been one of the hottest hitters in the Red Sox lineup this spring with a .421/.450/.579 slash line in 19 at-bats. His impressive raw power and athleticism makes him an appealing asset but he’s never been able to put it together at the big league level. Cordero had a monster season in Triple-A last season but hit only .189 with a .497 OPS in 48 games with Boston.
Refsnyder has a better track record at the major league level but Cordero has more upside. Unfortunately, that upside might cost Cordero a spot if the Red Sox want him to get steady at-bats in Triple-A to continue his development. The 31-year-old Refsnyder is a depth option who is better suited for the bench. Cordero’s left-handed bat also doesn’t platoon as well with Bradley Jr.
Cordero deserves a spot based on his spring performance and higher ceiling but Refsnyder might have an edge based on fit and long-term developmental needs.
If defense is a priority from these bench options, Sanchez needs to be in the conversation. The 2019 Gold Glove award winner would significantly upgrade the team’s weak infield defense. He can fill in at second when Story needs a breather or push the new Red Sox infielder to his natural shortstop position if Xander Bogaerts needs a day off. Sanchez can also handle the hot corner, providing an upgrade over the defensively-challenged Rafael Devers.
Sanchez doesn’t have much pop in his bat but he hit .313 during a brief sample in 2020 and he’s batting .308 this spring, albeit without an extra-base hit. An excellent defensive player who makes decent contact at the plate and isn’t a complete liability to the lineup has some appeal.
Unless one of these final bench spots goes to an outfielder, the lack of depth could result in Martinez seeing more time as an outfielder – at least until Jarren Duran earns a promotion or the Red Sox find an upgrade on the trade market. Concerns about the outfield defense would be partially offset by an upgraded infield with Sanchez filling in while Devers or Bogaerts serves as the DH.
The Red Sox will need to open at least one spot on the 40-man roster if they intend to bolster their bench with two position players during the first month of the season. Giving one of those spots to Arauz makes sense considering he’s already on the roster and the alternative options on the 40-man need more time to develop in Triple-A.
The final spot should go to Sanchez but it wouldn’t be shocking to see an outfielder selected considering their lack of depth, which could lead to the underwhelming Refsnyder being a temporary solution.