Position Battles To Watch

With the 2006 Boston Red Sox (over?)assembled, there remain a few roster questions to answer. While several of the major positions – catcher, LF, CF, and RF, DH – are set in stone, several other have residual question marks (some much larger than others). I’d like to briefly run them down here; in most cases, the answer is obvious, but certain factors could change those answers by Opening Day.
First Base: Kevin Youkilis and J.T. Snow
Though the starting job has essentially been handed to Kevin Youkilis, the recent acquisition of veteran glove man J.T. Snow lends question to the position. Though Snow is projected to serve as a bench presence and defensive replacement, a slow start or slow spring training by Youk – coupled with a hot start by Snow – could change that dynamic quickly. Many believe Terry Francona to have a weakness for veterans over younger players; I’m not sure how much evidence there is for that theory, but it is something to take into account.
In addition, any change at 3B would clearly influence Youkilis; should Youk have to move across the diamond, Snow would likely take over.
Second Base: Mark Loretta, Alex Cora, Tony Graffanino, and Dustin Pedroia
The acquisition of Loretta gave the Sox a former all-star and steady veteran presence at second. Loretta, however, is coming off an injury-plagued 2005 campaign that lessened his production and may have hurt his fielding. Should injury concerns continue, there are several 2B candidates available to take over. Backup MI’s Alex Cora and Tony Graffanino – should both remain with the club – would both be strong candidates to take over. The other option is top position prospect Dustin Pedroia, who will begin 2006 in Pawtucket. A strong start there could allow him to force his way onto the big club.
Shortstop: Alex Gonzalez, Alex Cora, Dustin Pedroia
Alex Gonzalez’s signing makes him a virtual certainty at SS, but Alex Cora – himself a solid glove with a weak bat – could likely step in as a replacement without the loss of much production. Chances are that only an injury would slide Cora into the starting spot, but it’s possible that a slow start for Gonzalez would give Cora more PT.
As for Dustin Pedroia’s potential role, see above: Pedroia can play both SS and 2B, and could become an option at either position.
Third Base: Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis
Mike Lowell, who arrived in the Josh Beckett deal in November, is a Gold Glove caliber 3B, as well as one of baseball’s most consistent producers at that position over the last several years. That’s the main reason why his 2005 campaign, in which he hit a woeful .236/.298/.360 with 8 HR – as compared to career averages of .272/.339/.461, 23 HR – came as such a complete shock. There have been rumors both of injury and of something far worse, but Lowell has vowed to reverse his slide from 05 and return to his previous production level. Still, should he fail spectacularly early, Kevin Youkilis remains ready to slide back over the diamond to his original position, leaving Snow in charge of 1B.
RF Platoon: Dustan Mohr, Willie Harris, Adam Stern
The role of Trot Nixon’s platoon mate has been a revolving door over the last several years. This year’s early favorite is Dustan Mohr, picked off the scrap heap by the FO after a miserable season in Colorado’s airy Coors Field. Mohr owns a career LHP split of .261/.345/.470, which makes him a reasonable candidate to sub for Nixon. Making the decision easier is the lack of an additional obvious candidate; Speedsters Willie Harris and Adam Stern could likely fill the defensive gap passably, but neither hits well enough – against lefties or anyone else – to justify removing Nixon from the lineup. The other possibility is an additional acquisition (many have mentioned Jeff DaVanon’s name).
Fifth OF: Dustan Mohr, Willie Harris, Adam Stern
Chances are that Mohr will wind up in a platoon with Trot, leaving the fifth OF spot, and job of CF backup, for Willie Harris and Adam Stern to fight over. Due to roster restrictions, Stern will have to remain on the MLB roster for at least 18 days at the start of the season, giving him an early leg up. Harris is a remarkably bad hitter, and likely isn’t much better than Stern on the basepaths or in the field, so if Adam can find his stroke early and in ST, he could find himself with a Dave Roberts-esque bench role this season. If he fails to impress, he’ll be headed back to Pawtucket once his Rule 5 rights are met, and Harris will take over that final bench spot.
So that’s basically it for position players – there’s obviously also a logjam in the pitching staff, with 7 starters and 13 potential RP’s. You can’t ever have too much of a good thing, but maybe you can have more than you can carry; still, the depth of the organization at many of these positions is impressive, and lends credence to the idea that the FO seems to know what it’s doing.