Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Kickin' It, Roster Style

Every year, just about this time (ok, it started two weeks ago) The Ninth begins contemplating the layout of the Red Sox 25 man roster. It's almost entirely pointless, as someone will get hurt in Spring Training, a bubble player will be better than anyone expected, and another will be worse. Note, for instance, Steve Woodard and Brandon Lyon on last season's opening day roster. Who could've called that? But nonetheless, it sure is fun to fill up empty notepads and unused Day Planner pages with names, so here's how it looks.

1. Pedro Martinez, SP
2. Curt Schilling, SP
3. Derek Lowe, SP
4. Tim Wakefield, SP
5. Byung-Hyun Kim, SP
6. Ramiro Mendoza, RP
7. Bronson Arroyo, RP
8. Mike Timlin, RP
9. Alan Embree, RP
10. Scott Williamson, RP
11. Keith Foulke, RP

13. Jason Varitek, C
14. Doug Mirabelli, C
15. David Ortiz, DH/1B
16. Kevin Millar, 1B/DH/OF
17. Pokey Reese, 2B
18. Mark Bellhorn, 2B/3B
19. Nomar Garciaparra, SS
20. Bill Mueller, 3B
21. Manny Ramirez, LF/DH
22. Johnny Damon, CF
23. Trot Nixon, RF
24. Gabe Kapler, OF
25. Ellis Burks, DH/OF/PH

Pretty nice squad, but as you hawkeyes may have noticed, we left out the 25th man. Except in this case, because that player may very well be the last arm in the bullpen, we made him #12. But they need a lot out of Mr. 12.

Firstly, the Red Sox could use a second lefty in the bullpen. Embree is there, but he doesn't pitch particularly well against lefties, and he will be used more in set-up than as a specialist. So someone from the Bierbrodt/Malaska/Dinardo/Seibel (get ready, Cooperstown) group has a shot. Get your bets in now.

But the team could also use a backup shortstop. Pokey can certainly field the position, but he's set as the starter on the other side of the bag. If Reese gets hit for late in the game (which of course, he will) and God forbid, Nomar gets hurt, the Sox will be in trouble. Mueller and perhaps Bellhorn are emergency options, but not particularly good ones. Also, Garciaparra's decline at the end of 2003 was not helped by his workload, so a legitimate back-up would be helpful. A rehabbing Tony Womack is in camp, and could provide pinch-running assistance, so he may be a fit.

But Boston could also use a left-handed bat off the bench. With Ellis back in Boston, Francona has some nice offensive choices on the pine, but they're primarily righties. Bellhorn can switch, but his OPS from the left side is under .725. A legitimate lefty will make opposing managers think a little harder when going to their bullpen, and will give Tito more late-inning flexibility. Now obviously there aren't many righties in the Sox starting nine that you would hit for, regardless of matchups, but balance is important. And Pokey is not really someone you want to see hit after the seventh inning. As everyone knows, Brian Daubach is back, and makes perfect sense in this role.

But there isn't room. There can be only one Mr. 12. A drawback to the stacked roster. One thing to consider: are both Mendoza and Arroyo necessary? They both fill the long man/swing role on a staff that doesn't expect to have many 5th inning exits. How many times did Schilling and Pedro leave a game before the sixth all of last season? Ten times, combined. And six of those were after going 5 complete. So it's hard to imagine the need of long relief more than once every time through the rotation. And if you have two guys in that role, someone isn't pitching for at least a week. That's not good roster management. A Mark Malaska or a Tony Womack could more useful than a redundant long reliever. Mendoza isn't going to Pawtucket, so, barring injuries, could Bronson be going back down? We'll see....