Projecting Boston Red Sox's Final 25-Man Roster at the Start of Spring Training
With the Boston Red Sox now fully immersed in spring training, the team is looking to solidify and cement its final 25-man roster en route to Opening Day 2014.
The Red Sox once again find themselves in the coveted position of defending a World Series championship, yet have been forced to endure a number of various changes and setbacks in the weeks and months leading up to the regular season.
There have been some substantial changes in Boston's lineup from last season—most notably, the departures of players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia via free agency. Veteran righty Ryan Dempster shall also miss all of 2014.
A new cast of characters have also stepped into the fold—including veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski and three-time All-Star outfielder Grady Sizemore.
A number of Red Sox rookies will also have their chance to shine at the big league level.
Atop that, Boston will carry over almost the entire starting rotation that helped propel the team towards victory in the Fall Classic. Supplemented by a reinforced bullpen, the Red Sox's arms appear just as venerable as they were a year ago.
In this slideshow, we take a preseason look at what the Red Sox's final 25-man roster will look like come Opening Day.
For the sake of clarity and consistency, we shall use Boston's roster provided by CBS Sports in order to help us evaluate each position and which players will crack the roster on Opening Day.
Sure, there are a number of things left to be decided when it comes to evaluating each one of the starters and which players will wind up being backups. Depth charts are yet to be determined, at least in the mind of Red Sox manager John Farrell.
Yet there is a pretty good indication—aside from some competition at a few positions—that the Red Sox's final roster is close to being set.
Let us jump right into it.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross
Starter: A.J. Pierzynski
2013 Statistics: .272 BA / 70 RBI / .722 OPS / .998 Fielding Percentage
Backup: David Ross
2013 Statistics: .216 BA / 10 RBI / .681 OPS / .997 Fielding Percentage
The Boston Red Sox are preparing to employ an aging catching tandem behind the plate in 2014.
This was made apparent when Boston parted ways with its 2013 No. 1 backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia during the offseason, electing instead to sign 16-year veteran A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.25 million deal.
At 37 years old, one has to wonder just how much gas Pierzynski has left in the tank, especially at such a demanding position.
It is also feasible to be concerned with the reputation that Pierzynski has carried with him during the course of his career.
Once referred to being a clubhouse "cancer," Pierzynski's reputation does not appear to be something that will have an effect within the Red Sox's locker room.
Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe describes this further by writing:
The Red Sox just won the World Series and have a team of veterans, including tone-setters like Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. In John Farrell, they also have an authoritative manager with a low threshold for nonsense. Pierzynski’s personality likely won’t be an issue, and if it becomes one, it’ll be settled quickly. Pierzynski also has a reputation for intelligence, durability, playing hard, and playing to win. That sounds a lot like the players Ben Cherington gathered up last winter.
Pierzynski has discussed the issue already, as quoted via ESPN The Magazine earlier this year (h/t Ricky Doyle of NESN.com):
I don’t know what people expect me to be like. I think the media can decide you’re either a bad guy or a good guy, and they can keep pounding it until everyone thinks it’s true. I get tired of the crap. Every day you read the newspaper, you have to hope that somebody didn’t say something or write something that’ll make you have to defend yourself.
Reputation aside, manager John Farrell will be hoping that he gets the lifetime .283 batting average that Pierzynski has posted over the course of his career, plus the veteran leadership that a player his age often is associated with having.
Yet one cannot overlook Pierzynski's age when combined with the rigorous toll the position requires.
As such, the Red Sox will once again employ a catching tandem with penultimate backup David Ross manning the No. 2 slot on the depth chart.
A lifetime .237 hitter, Ross rarely offers much as far as offense is concerned. But that has never really been a part of his game. Ross is the type of catcher any team would want when it comes to handling a pitching staff and providing solid defense on the field.
Ross fulfilled this duty in 2013 and may even see a little more playing time in 2014 considering the age of both catchers on Boston's roster.
Then there are the questions surrounding No. 3 catcher Ryan Lavarnway and prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez.
Swihart and Vazquez will likely spend another year developing in the minors while the timeframe on Lavarnway to earn his final shot as a full-time major leaguer may be coming to a close.
With few teams carrying three catchers on their 25-man roster these days, it will be hard to fathom Farrell retaining him into the regular season unless he can be worked in at other positions.
Farrell has mentioned Lavarnway seeing some time at first base per Rick Weber of ESPNBoston.com.
Still, with the depth Boston has behind the plate paired with options at first, it is hard to fathom the Red Sox utilizing Lavarnway in any full-time role at the big league level. It could be that they are just giving him some extra stock to increase his trade value before the regular season commences.
As such, do not expect Lavarnway to be a part of the roster on Opening Day.
First Base: Mike Napoli
Starter: Mike Napoli
2013 Statistics: .259 BA / 92 RBI / .842 OPS / .994 Fielding Percentage
One of the assured locks on Boston's roster to be starting on Opening Day is first baseman Mike Napoli—a player who was a crucial part of the Red Sox's run to the World Series in 2013.
Here is what's known about Napoli's value to the Red Sox.
Not only does he provide veteran leadership inside a diverse and character-laden clubhouse, but he also supplies the necessary protection behind David Ortiz in Boston's venerable lineup.
Napoli started 84 games last season hitting in the No. 5 slot, usually behind Ortiz. This placement put in position to drive in 53 runs from the 5-slot—an element the Red Sox will once again need in 2014.
Along with the production however, come injury concerns—albeit appearing more limited as the preseason has moved along.
A degenerative hip condition negated the contract Napoli initially signed before the 2013 season, forcing the veteran first baseman to agree to only a one-year deal. With the ailment having minimal effect on his production that season, the Red Sox pushed to get Napoli back in their lineup for this season, signing him to a two-year, $32 million deal.
Napoli wanted to be back and elaborated such via Howard Ulman of Yahoo! Sports:
After going through what I went through last year, it was definitely a relief to just go through this. I'm happy to be back. I wanted to be in a place where I was comfortable and somewhere where we can win.
With Napoli back, the heart of the Red Sox's order will retain one of its strengths.
Other roster members shall provide the necessary backup behind Napoli at the position. Daniel Nava, Mike Carp and Ortiz (during interleague play) should all see some time in Napoli's stead.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Herrera
Starter: Dustin Pedroia
2013 Statistics: .301 BA / 84 RBI / .787 OPS / .993 Fielding Percentage
Backup: Jonathan Herrera
2013 Statistics: .292 BA / 16 RBI / .701 OPS / .986 Fielding Percentage
While the Red Sox may be starting the transitional phase of moving towards younger, cheaper players that are working their way up, one mainstay that shall remain a cornerstone for the long term is second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Pedroia is in the midst of an eight-year, $110 million contract that keeps him in Boston through 2021, all but assuring that he will remain the Red Sox second baseman for the foreseeable future.
In 2013, Pedroia enjoyed another stellar season which saw him make his fourth All-Star team and receive his third Gold Glove Award.
The only statistic that took a hit was his power—Pedroia belted only nine home runs compared to 15 the year prior and the fewest since 2007.
Pedroia could likely blame the thumb injury suffered on Opening Day last season for the lack in power and some, like Boston.com writer Chad Finn, feel that Pedroia is due for a power surge in 2014.
There is hardly anything wrong with that prediction.
Expect more of the same, plus a little more pop, from this 30-year-old veteran. He will provide his knack for hitting and getting on base once more, and combine it with stellar defense.
Yet Pedroia will still need a break from time to time which leads us to our next player on the roster—Jonathan Herrera.
Officially listed by CBS Sports as a second baseman, Herrera's value comes in his versatility. He can play every position on the infield except first which gives the Red Sox plenty of options when it comes to supplying a worthy utility infielder.
In a similar role with the Colorado Rockies last year, Herrera batted .292 in 195 at-bats. He also posted a noteworthy .986 fielding percentage.
During the offseason, Boston was able to trade for the versatile infielder last December, which gave the team needed depth in the infield.
Therefore, the Red Sox will enjoy the bonus of being able to place Herrera on the infield almost anywhere when needed.
Third Base: Will Middlebrooks
Starter: Will Middlebrooks
2013 Statistics: .227 BA / 49 RBI / .696 OPS / .954 Fielding Percentage
Third base for the Red Sox could be a position of intrigue heading towards Opening Day in 2014.
Much of this focuses on incumbent third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
Over his two-year career with the Red Sox, Middlebrooks closely epitomizes a "Jekyll and Hyde" scenario. On one hand, there was his 2012 rookie season that saw Middlebrooks bat .288 with an .835 OPS. Then in 2013, Middlebrooks flopped and hit a mere .227 over the course of the season.
Granted, a wrist injury thwarted much of his sophomore campaign, but the results were bad enough that Middlebrooks endured a demotion down to the AAA level in the middle of the season.
When the playoffs rolled around last year, the stellar play of young phenom Xander Bogaerts pushed Middlebrooks aside as the Red Sox rolled toward the World Series crown.
So what is Middlebrooks facing in 2014?
Despite the inconsistencies that plagued Middlebrooks last year, it is difficult to assume the Red Sox will be looking elsewhere for a starting third baseman on Opening Day. With Boston looking more and more as if it is willing to move on from Stephen Drew—who has yet to sign with a team this season—the starting job at shortstop shall be given to Bogaerts.
While Drew's return cannot entirely be ruled out altogether—as further described by Jeff Louderback of BaseballNewsSource.com—the longer Drew stays out of a Red Sox uniform, the less likely the chance he returns at all.
The Red Sox do have minor league prospects waiting to make their debut, most notably Garin Cecchini.
At this point, the best plausible option Boston has at third base behind Middlebrooks is Cecchini who continues to wow spectators during spring training per Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com.
Cecchini must realize that Middlebrooks is perhaps the lone player standing in the way between he and a shot at a major league roster spot in 2014, although Cecchini was quick to compliment Middlebrooks via Meredith Perri of WEEI.com:
Great player, great person—really tried to pick [Middlebrooks'] brain on what he’€™s learned because he’€™s been there and done that. I’ve only played Double A. He knows what to do, he knows his routine. I’€™m just trying to learn from his experiences because he’€™s been there.
While Cecchini has flashed signs that he should be the future Red Sox third baseman, it appears as if Boston will give Middlebrooks one more year to prove himself at this level. It may not even be a year if Middlebrooks' 2013 struggles continue into this season.
As such, Middlebrooks is on the hot seat and will need to demonstrate his worth to this team in a hurry. Still, it is hard to fathom him not being on the roster and earning the starting job come Opening Day.
Bogaerts and utility infielder Jonathan Herrera should also see some time at third base during the course of the season.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts
Starter: Xander Bogaerts
2013 Statistics (18 regular-season games): .250 BA / 5 RBI / .684 OPS / 1.000 Fielding Percentage
Life must be good when you are ranked as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball by ESPN baseball insider Keith Law (subscription required).
But with high praise comes high expectations.
Such is the life of rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts, who is slated to become not only the future shortstop for the Red Sox, but perhaps a cornerstone of the team for years to come.
There are plenty of things to like about Bogaerts' game, and his accolades and potential could fill a dozen articles themselves.
Yet to keep things short and sweet, let us stick to the overall consensus—Bogaerts is the real deal and there is no reason to expect that Bogaerts will not live up to his potential.
His budding development and major league ready capacity are the prime reason why the Red Sox were able to move on from Stephen Drew so quickly in 2014. In short, Boston no longer needed Drew even if stories—as described on the previous slide—suspect otherwise.
Rich Arleo of CBS Local further described Bogaerts' talents and potential by writing:
In four minor league seasons he has a .296 average, .373 OBP and impressive .862 OPS, with 54 home runs, 81 doubles and 16 triples in 378 games. He doesn’t have much speed for a middle infielder, but can swipe a few bases here and there and has the power and quickness to leg out doubles and triples consistently. On the defensive side, Bogaerts is fine. He isn’t going to wow with the glove at this point, though he could continue to improve in the future. Bogaerts has middle-of-the-order potential and could be a mainstay there for years to come. Look for Bogaerts to emerge as one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball in the years to come.
That is a pretty simple assessment of what fans can expect out of Bogaerts moving forward.
As such, one should expect Bogaerts to be a key component to Boston's lineup for years to come. He will be an exciting talent to watch and adds another weapon to the Red Sox's prospectus for defending their World Series title in 2014.
Left Field: Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp
Starter: Daniel Nava
2013 Statistics: .303 BA / 66 RBI / .831 OPS / .984 Fielding Percentage
Backup: Jonny Gomes
2013 Statistics: .247 BA / 52 RBI / .771 OPS / .992 Fielding Percentage
Backup: Mike Carp
2013 Statistics: .296 BA / 43 RBI / .885 OPS / 1.000 Fielding Percentage
Just like they did in 2013, the Red Sox will again employ a platoon of players in left field, comprised of switch-hitter Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp.
The platoon situation in 2014 can be predicted specifically by which pitchers the Red Sox will face over the course of the season. Nava, who can face pitchers from either side of the plate, owns a career .292 batting average hitting from the left side compared to only a .223 average against lefties.
Gomes on the other hand is a much more attractive option against left-handed pitching—a career .277 average against lefties compared to a .225 average against righties.
That tandem alone may be enough, but with Nava's abilities to play in a multitude of positions (right field and first base as well), the door is open for further competition between Gomes and Carp. Carp provides an added left-handed bat and is also capable of playing right and first base.
So who gets the edge as the Red Sox's starting left fielder?
On initial assumption, my simple guess would be Nava. There are more right-handed arms on the mound which gives Nava an edge based on his career numbers alone.
Yet the true results will be based on what transpires on the field and how each player is performing. If one guy gets hot, expect him to receive more at-bats. It is that simple.
I think the one thing that we can look back on this year is we probably allowed guys to have success by taking advantage of their strengths. I know you can make the argument that [Gomes] performed better against righties this year than in years past, but when you look at the combination of what he and Daniel Nava did in left field, I want to say it was about 110 RBIs, it was close to 30 home runs, it was over 50 doubles. I think that combination was extremely productive.
It worked well enough in 2013. Fans should expect nothing different this season as well.
Sure, there may be a little competition in left field entering the regular season, but if the Red Sox can get similar production out of this trio, the team—and the competition itself—will enjoy the benefits.
Center Field: Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore
Jackie Bradley Jr.
2013 Statistics (37 regular-season games): .189 BA / 10 RBI / .617 OPS / .983 Fielding Percentage
2011 Statistics (missed 2012 and 2013 due to injury): .224 BA / 32 RBI / .706 OPS / .984 Fielding Percentage
Swap the two aforementioned players in terms of starter/backup if you so desire.
After all, the competition for the Opening Day starting job is still very much in the air.
As it stands, the Red Sox currently have to players vying for one job in center—rookie prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. and three-time All-Star-turned injury risk Grady Sizemore.
In a nutshell, the competition for the No. 1 center fielder is as such: Bradley is the young and talented prospect, but is he ready for the big leagues? Sizemore was once a player that looked everything the part of the former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but whose career has since been hindered by a plethora of injuries.
Can Bradley hit major league pitching and can Sizemore stay healthy? Those are the pertinent questions here.
Let us start with Bradley first.
Certainly overshadowed by Xander Bogaerts on the list of Red Sox prospects, Bradley is still worth touting as a player who may, at one point or another, develop into a quality outfielder capable of contributing at a high level in the majors.
Don't let his limited 2013 sample size at that level discourage you quite yet.
After all, that sample size is still pretty small.
Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reminds us that not all great players started out their respective careers with a bang. He writes:
You also could assemble a pretty good baseball team with the guys who looked awful in their first go-round in the big leagues, then managed to have notable careers. Say hello to Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, Bret Boone and, oh yeah, Dustin Pedroia, all of whom batted under .200, like Bradley, in their first year in the majors. Jackie Bradley Jr. is here to tell you that it's your prerogative to believe, based on the early returns, that he won't cut it as the man to replace Ellsbury in center field for the Boston Red Sox.
So it probably isn't important if you think Bradley cannot cut it at the major league level. The only important part is that Bradley thinks he can.
He stated so via Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe:
You’re always trying to earn your stripes and I’m constantly in that battle to compete. I’m not trying to replace anybody. I’m just trying to compete and work hard. I’m looking forward to being more comfortable at the big league level. You are going to struggle, but that’s good. That way, I’ll be able to overcome it and gain some confidence from it. Going through those battles and those fights are only going to make me better.
With confidence on his side, Bradley will look to a productive spring training to garner more attention behind an eventual decision by manager John Farrell to tab him as the starting center fielder this season.
Yet the Red Sox may not have been so eager to place their entire hopes upon Bradley moving into 2014—a feeling that was indicated by the eventual signing of Sizemore to a one-year, incentive-laden deal during the offseason.
As tweeted by Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, Sizemore was Ellsbury before Ellsbury was Ellsbury. Indeed Sizemore had all those tools. He had high on-base potential, pop, speed and defensive prowess.
He also fell victim to the injury bug.
A slew of injuries limited Sizemore's playing time ever since the 2009 season and kept him off the field altogether in 2012 and 2013.
Thus, the question remains—can Sizemore stay healthy?
So far, Sizemore's health has appeared good enough as reported by WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia, but will that be the case Opening Day? More importantly, will that be the case over a 162-game season?
It is open for debate as to which player receives the starting job. Some accounts point to the Red Sox trusting in Bradley while others have sided with Sizemore. Take a look at this Yahoo! Sports comparison for further explanation.
This may be the lone position battle to watch this spring—the results of which are yet to be determined.
So take whichever player you think will make the Opening Day lineup and count him against the 25-man roster. The other will either be demoted (if it is Bradley) or possibly released (if it is Sizemore). As we will see, there is a bit of a logjam in later slides.
Right Field: Shane Victorino
Starter: Shane Victorino
2013 Statistics: .294 BA / 61 RBI / .801 OPS / .990 Fielding Percentage
If the situation in center field is unclear, the situation in right is all but guaranteed. Shane Victorino will be the Red Sox starting right fielder on Opening Day.
That is of course if Grady Sizemore stays healthy and Jackie Bradley Jr. does nothing to warrant him losing a roster spot.
Assuming neither of the two listed possibilities takes place, Victorino will once again be patrolling the field in front of Williamsburg in 2014, much like he did for the majority of last season.
With Victorino's defensive position all but guaranteed, the focus shifts to where manager John Farrell will bat him in the lineup.
Here is where the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury hurts to a certain extent.
With Ellsbury gone, Boston is forced to make an adjustment. It is hard to fathom Farrell putting Bradley or Sizemore in that position come Opening Day, so instead he will be forced to look elsewhere for the production so vital to setting the table in front of the Red Sox's big hitters.
Any indication should point to Victorino being the favorite to leadoff.
This is something not new to Victorino who batted in the 1-slot a total of 1,010 times over his 10-year career. Yet his career batting average and on-base percentage in the No. 1 position—.249 and .317 respectively.
Those number splits are not exactly the more desirable out of the leadoff position, yet the situation has basically forced the Red Sox's hand. There are relatively few other options for Farrell at this point—an aspect pointed out by Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald.
Still, Victorino remains unfazed by the statistics and no difference in batting atop the order versus elsewhere. He stated via John Tomase of The Boston Herald:
Coincidence. I didn’t do anything different in ’11 or ’12 or ’13. What’s frustrating about this game is we’re sometimes overly caught up in statistics. I’m telling you straight: I don’t do anything different, whether I’m hitting first, fifth, sixth or second.
Farrell's eventual decision may yet be determined, although indications have pointed to Victorino being the favorite. It is something he has experience with and the combination of versatility and speed make Victorino the favorite candidate atop the Red Sox lineup.
As far as defense goes, Farrell may swap outfielders Daniel Nava and Mike Carp with Victorino from time to time.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
Starter: David Ortiz
2013 Statistics: .309 BA / 103 RBI / .959 OPS
No matter how you slice it, this is still David Ortiz's team.
As the heart and soul of the current Red Sox franchise, Ortiz's value comes not only in his production at the plate, but also in the way he conducts himself within Boston's clubhouse.
One can certainly look at the recent discussions surrounding Ortiz's contractual talks as an unpleasant distraction this preseason, yet the fact remains that at 38 years old, Ortiz is still contributing at a high level and continues to be the biggest offensive threat in the Red Sox lineup.
Batting in front of him will be the table setters like Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia. Behind him will lurk the presence of Mike Napoli.
Almost everything looks good from this perspective and as long as Ortiz is able to compete at a high level, there should be little reason to assume his numbers will not do all of his talking when the season commences.
So is there any question surrounding his longevity?
At this point, no.
It may have been easy to assume that Ortiz would start slowing down. This probably could have been argued a number of years ago. Yet the fact remains that Ortiz is still one of the most dangerous and prolific hitters in all of baseball and warrants the fear and respect from opposing pitchers around the league.
Contracts aside, that is about all that Red Sox fans care about.
Relief Pitchers: Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Et Al.
Closer: Koji Uehara
2013 Statistics: 4-1 / 21 Saves / 1.09 ERA / 0.565 WHIP / 11.22 SO-BB Ratio
Setup: Edward Mujica
2013 Statistics: 2-1 / 37 Saves / 2.78 ERA / 1.005 WHIP / 9.20 SO-BB Ratio
Setup: Junichi Tazawa
2013 Statistics: 5-4 / 3.16 ERA / 1.200 WHIP / 6.00 SO-BB Ratio
Let us kick off the list of Boston's venerable pitchers by evaluating the back end of the team's bullpen.
Saying that the Red Sox's bullpen was an integral part of their World Series run last year is an understatement. In fact, it could be one of the primary reasons behind the Red Sox's victory in the Fall Classic.
Look at closer Koji Uehara's reception of the American League Championship Series MVP Award as an example.
Uehara and fellow reliever Junichi Tazawa are now joined on the back end of the bullpen by former Cardinals' closer Edward Mujica who also has plenty of experience closing out games, yet lost the job late last season due to inconsistencies.
At 38 years old, Uehara's biggest concern will be his age combined with the rigorous effects of closing over the duration of an entire season, combined with the extended work endured during the playoffs last year.
Fortunately, a reliever like Mujica—who should expect to see use as a setup man early on—is perfectly capable of being utilized in a closer role if, by chance, Uehara is unavailable. It is not too far from possibility to see the Red Sox use Tazawa from time to time as well.
Regardless, these final three in the bullpen shall help continue Boston's relief strength into 2014.
Moving into the middle relievers, we notice a bit of a logjam when it comes to players that should make the 25-man roster on Opening Day.
Absent from this list are pitchers like Alex Wilson and Brandon Workman. In Workman's case, we will get to him on the next slide.
In Capuano—whom the Red Sox acquired in free agency from the Los Angeles Dodgers—Boston adds a veteran lefty who has practical experience as a starter. While the Red Sox do not eyeball him as a possible member of the rotation, it is worthy to consider him a possible spot-starter in case one of the rotation members goes down with an injury.
Boston also added righty Burke Badenhop during the offseason.
These bullpen additions shall combine with middle relievers Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller who make up one of the best pens in baseball.
Some of the other pitching assets like Wilson may eventually be called up during the season, but do not expect them to make the initial 25-man roster.
Starters: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront
Starting Pitchers: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront
Just like the bullpen, Boston's rotation was an integral part of their success in 2013 and should be considered the same this upcoming season.
Any likely prediction, like the one provided by Ben Buchanan of SB Nation, would tab the listed rotation as all but guaranteed heading into 2014.
Now that veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster is slated to miss all of this season, Boston's rotation is virtually locked into place.
Jon Lester is the bona fide No. 1 ace on the staff and is backed up by the resurging John Lackey who turned his Boston tenure around in 2013. There is the brilliant, yet oft-injured Clay Buchholz in the 3-slot with veteran righty and former Cy Young recipient Jake Peavy behind him. Rounding out the rotation is the up-and-coming Felix Doubront.
As far as Lester is concerned, the Red Sox ace should enjoy another solid year atop the rotation. There is no reason to expect otherwise.
Lackey and Peavy are different stories however. Consistency and age combine here to draw some questions. Yet with both pitchers entering the final year of their respective contracts—Lackey has a conditional option for 2015—it is safe to assume the Red Sox are looking to their farm system for their eventual replacements.
Still, Lackey and Peavy should be expected to receive their places on the 25-man roster to open up the 2014 season.
Buchholz commands a number of questions on his own. Can he stay healthy over the course of an entire season? Since coming into the majors in 2007, Buchholz has started 20 or more games only twice in his career—2010 and 2012.
When he is healthy and pitching effectively, Buchholz has some of the best stuff on the mound. Yet injuries have hampered what could have been a remarkable start to his career.
As it stands, the Red Sox appear poised to prepare for another possible long-term absence from Buchholz in 2014. The team can count on young prospect Brandon Workman—who I do not predict will make the Opening Day roster—to be called upon to spot start.
The addition of Chris Capuano this offseason also provides a viable option.
Felix Doubront could be the starter to watch in 2014.
Eric Wilbur of Boston.com sums up some of the expectations that fans should have surrounding Doubront. He writes:
The major question that needs to be addressed is [Doubront's] maturity and physical state of affairs, both of which seem to have taken a 180 this spring. With Lackey signed only through next season (and frankly, whether or not he wants to pitch for the league minimum or simply retire should be a story line worth watching), Peavy up after the season, and only a resigned Lester and Buchholz regarded as mainstays in the rotation, Doubront has a chance to cement his spot in Boston, as Allen Webster, Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens await in the shadows of the 95 Express to McCoy.
At 26 years old, Doubront should be reaching his prime and how he translates that, in combination with his effectiveness, shall determine how the Red Sox view him as a commodity moving forward.
If there is any shaky spot in the rotation—aside from injury—regarding a pitcher losing his job, Doubront appears to be the guy if Wilbur's assessments are correct. Still, the job is Doubront's to lose and it is hard to fathom him not being a part of the Red Sox's plans, at least in 2014.
If you have done the math, you will notice that there are 26 players on this 25-man roster. The biggest question that remains to be seen is what transpires between Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore.
With the Red Sox carrying over four outfielders from 2013 and adding a fifth this offseason, it is hard to suggest the team will employ the services of both Bradley and Sizemore.
There is nothing to state the team will not do this, but personally, I would place more emphasis on Boston's bullpen than I would to excessive outfield depth. Thus, by subtracting the player that loses out in the competition for center field gives us the final 25-man roster at the end of this list.
Also, I must not forget some of the other players to watch in 2014 but do not make the initial Opening Day roster. It is hard to overlook pitchers like Workman and, to a lesser extent, prospects like Webster, Barnes and Ranaudo.
Positional prospects like Garin Cecchini, Bryce Brentz, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart should also be on your radar.
As it goes, 25-man rosters change all the time over the course of a regular season. Teams almost never carry over the same players employed on Opening Day.
But for an initial prediction for the Red Sox, this is about as good as it is going to get.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.