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The Roster

The Sox management has clearly succeeded in filling out the team almost exactly as they planned. Sure, they'd love it if one of their starting outfielders batted righty, if they knew for sure Jed Lowrie wouldn't come down with Leprosy, if they knew what they were going to get from Beckett, Lackey and Dice-K, and (only maybe) an established lefty reliever.

I thought it was time to take a look at the projected roster with some commentary (italics are the at-risk spots and I indicated lefty/switch in parentheses).

Starting Nine
CF Ellsbury (l)
2B Pedroia
LF Crawford (l)
1B AGon (l)
3B Youk
DH Papi (l)
C Salty (s)
RF Drew (l)
SS Scutaro

The biggest question here is the order. To what extend will Francona try to break up the 5 lefties? Where will Crawford bat? I feel his speed will help the top of the order and I'm not worried about a Tony Fossas-type against Carl and AGon. The other questions would be Scutaro or Lowrie (probably Jed if they are both healthy) and where do you put Drew.

Bench
Inf. Lowrie (s)
OF Cameron
C Varitek (s)
OF McDonald

I can't seem to figure out what the contract status of McDonald is. I think he's a free agent but people assume he's coming back. I love the guy but it might be better to look for a guy who could also play some infield. Their talent on the bench is great but it's rather shallow and has some health, age questions.

Starters
Lester (l)
Beckett
Buchholz
Lackey
Matsuzaka
The others: Wake, Doubront, and, later in the season, maybe Junichi Tazawa (coming off Tommy John), Kyle Weiland or Alex Wilson(in Portland last year).

Despite the acquisitions this offseason, this is still the difference maker for this team. Two young stars, two former star horses, and a wildcard as #5. That's fantastic.

Relievers
Papelbon
Bard
Jenks
Wheeler
Albers
Atchison
Wakefield
The others: Prospects Michael Bowden and Felix Doubront (l), and vets Andrew Miller (l), Rich Hill (l), Lenny DiNardo (l), Randy Williams (l), Robert Coello, and Matt Fox all have some major league experience. In the minors there are righties Jason Rice (in Portland last year), bonus baby Anthony Ranaudo (hasn't pitched in the pros yet), and Bryce Cox.

This bullpen would be all righties but who do you drop? This is a big bullpen already (7 members) so you can't add someone. I think this could force Wake to retire after spring training baring any injury to a starter or could force a surprise cut or trade. That said, the lefties, Miller DiNardo and Hill, will need to make the Sox to drop someone. This management has never bought into the need for a lefty in the bullpen - but then they give in at some point. I think the Sox would like to let Doubront begin the season starting in Pawtucket then come up mid-season as a reliever if needed. Bowden will have to make a case that he's 100% ready and reliable. I bet he goes to Pawtucket to perfect the art of relieving.

The Bench:
Outfielders Ryan Kalish (l), Daniel Nava (s) and Josh Reddick (l) could all play in the majors now but all three are basically lefties (Nava stinks batting righty). Portland's defensive wiz Che-Hsuan Lin might be a dark horse to appear in Boston this year since he's their top righthanded hitting outfield in the minors.

Infielders... not much there. 1B Lars Anderson and IF Yamaico Navarro tasted the majors last year but neither is really ready to play consistently (btw, watch out for Yamaico if he learns to drive the ball. He showed some power in the fall league and Francona already marveled at his bat speed). This looks like a spot for some minor league free agents (e.g. Darnell McDonald or Nick Green) or dark horse (like Nate Spear or Brent Dlugach) to impress in spring training and something might work out for them - especially with Scutaro aging, Peddy coming off a bad injury and Lowrie injury/sickness-prone until he proves otherwise. SS phenom Jose Iglesias might get a taste this year as well which would set up a battle with Lowrie for 2012 - this is Lowrie's year to become a star or a career super sub (if he's healthy I think he's a star).

At catcher, Mark Wagner in Pawtucket would be the first call up if needed but he can't hit. After that they hope that Ryan Lavarnway can continue his now-rapid accent. He looks like a perfect backup to Salty if Salty finally lives up to expectations. Lavarnway is a powerful righty who could probably learn to play a little first and DH to get some extra at bats. Luis Espisito is also on the radar and has a high ceiling.

Every year there's a player who comes out of no where to make the team or at least play a very significant roll. My picks for the Nick Green award would be Nate Spear finding playing time in the infield due to some injury and Robert Coello carving out a roll for himself in the pen.


Side note: Some writers have said that Lars Anderson (23 yrs old) and 3B Will Middlebrooks (in single-A) are now expendable since the AGon acquisition. That's absurd. Those are exactly the kinds of kids you let play and grow in the minors while you don't need them in the majors. Make Lars and Middlebrooks improve to the point where they are forcing you to let them play in the majors, at which point you move someone (like Youk to DH post-Papi) or trade someone when they are valuable. Don't trade mid-level prospects with high ceilings just because you have major league talent at their respective positions. We traded Jeff Bagwell because the team already had thirdbasemen Wade Boggs and (2-time All Star?) Scott Cooper in Boston and Pawtucket respectively. That worked out well.

Bonus: if you've read this long the you deserve a good laugh. Check out this picture of minor league reliever Blake Maxwell or, as I've dubbed him, "clown college" here.

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