Sorry I've been away for a week or so. I've been battling the obligatory mid-February sinus-throat illness, but when I saw those pictures of the equipment truck leaving Fenway Park yesterday, the sniffles began to dry up and I could smell spring training right around the corner.
I promised a look at Boston's bench next, so that's where I'm headed in the ensuing paragraphs. It's pretty safe to say that my list below will change, perhaps significantly, by opening day. So instead of solely looking at players, I'm going to break the backup slots down by position and look at some of the candidates. Though some teams go with 12 in the beginning days of April, I'm figuring the Sox will break camp with 11 pitchers. That leaves us with 5 backup slots for position players.Backup First Baseman:
I start here because this one is easy. The Sox signed J.T. Snow
to backup/platoon with Kevin Youkilis
and I do think he'll wind up with a lot of playing time. Snow is a good addition to the Sox, a 5 time gold glover who has the ability to hit a little bit. I touched on my doubts about Youkilis' offensive ability in my last post, but he's a better hitter than Snow, so Youks isn't going to lose AB's based on the bat. Tito will play some lefty/righty to get Snow in there, and he'll also have Snow doing his best Dave Stapleton
impersonation (except for Game 6, of course. We don't mention Game 6), coming in late in games to hold leads.
There are no other firstbaseman on the 40-man roster, so barring a trade, what you see is what the Sox will get.Backup Catcher:
Does it matter if this is Josh Bard
, Ken Huckaby
or John Flaherty
? All three are good-glove, no-hit backstops who have had indistinguished major league careers. Hey, that's not a slap in the face. I would kill for an indistinguished career in pro ball. How to pick one of them? If it were up to me, I'd isolate them each with Wakefield for a couple days, then let Timmy pick. Either that or tell them whoever has the least passed balls out of 1000 knuckleballs makes the team automatically. They could televise it on NESN like some sort of reality show. I know I'd watch.
Flaherty most likely gets the nod based just on experience. Extra nostalgia points for him since he cameo'd for the '92-'93 Red Sox, and fought current Cleveland manager Eric Wedge
for the right to backup Tony Pena
. Personally, I think Bard has the most upside. He had 8 HR and 36 RBI in 2003 when he amassed 300 AB's. Not great, or even good, numbers by any means. But he's known for his defense, and that stick won't kill you.
Let me also take just a second on one other idea. The Sox still need to trade an arm, and San Diego no longer needs Doug Mirabelli
after acquiring Mike Piazza. Wells wants to go to San Diego. The Sox would like their backup catcher, well, back. Now, I wouldn't deal Wells straight up for Mirabelli, but building some sort of larger deal around those two just seems to make sense, doesn't it?4th Outfielder:
Here is where things get a little shallow. Sox Nation better pray Trot Nixon's
back and Manny's hammy can hold up for 162 games because the options to back them up in the outfield seem pretty slim. We all know Trot needs a right-handed platoon partner, and since RF in Fenway is pretty spacious, it would help if the guy could flash the leather. The candidates right now are Dustan Mohr, Adam Stern
and Willie Harris
, with Gabe Kapler
hoping to get in the mix once he's healthy. Mohr is probably the best hitter of the bunch, and he hit .214 last year. The Sox could always keep Stern or Harris and have them double as the prerequisite "speedy guy off the bench" but I'd be very surprised if Theo doesn't add another OF before camp is done.Utility Infielder:
From famine to feast, as the Sox have too many candidates for the last infield slot. Everyone seems to love Alex Cora
(well, except for the fans, who just can't get excited about a guy who hits .230 with no pop no matter how many times we hear what a mind for baseball the guy has).
Then there's last year's late-season hero turned playoff goat Tony Graffanino,
who stymied the Sox when he actually accepted their arbitration offer to stick around. Most people expect Graffanino to get traded during spring training (Hmm, does San Diego need a replacement for Mark Loretta
?), and Cora to stick as the backup infielder.
In addition to these two veterans, much of Sox Nation was ready to turn shortstop over to diminutive prospect, Dustin Pedroia
, just a couple months ago, and with a good spring, he could complicate things. Figure only one of them makes the squad though, and Pedroia seems ticketed for that little ballpark in Rhode Island.Speedy Guy:
There's actually some flexibility with this last roster spot, but I say "speedy guy" because ever since Dave Roberts
saved the Nation with one stolen base, the Sox have tried to keep a late-game pinch runner on their bench. Last year they tried Adam Stern
, who despite his supposed speed had a knack for getting picked off in the big spots, and Alex Machado
, a fleet-footed jack of all trades who does everything but hit. Both are candidates for the slot again. However, with the Sox lack of bats on the bench, a good pinch hitter would do wonders in this slot if Theo and co. can acquire one. And don't rule out a youngster like Brandon Moss
or David Murphy
playing their way onto the team this spring.
Let me use this last bit of space to rant just briefly about Matt Murton
, who would look great as a 4th outfielder right now. Now, despite what many of you may think, I'm not privy to exact trade discussions, but I can't for the life of me figure out why Theo had to throw in a decent prospect like Murton just to get the Cubs to "take" Nomar Garciaparra. (This is pre-groin injury, remember, when he could still play big league ball).
I can't get carried away with this, since any deal that helped us win the World Series in 2004 gets automatic "can't bitch about it" status, but it's hard for me to keep quiet on this one. I've been a Murton fan since they drafted him out of Georgia Tech, and everytime I see him suit up for the Cubbies my mood gets a little bit sour.
That's it for now. Next, I'll take a look at the 18 (okay, 7) candidates for a starting spot in the rotation.