BOSTON -- Before Spring Training was canceled and Opening Day delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there were some compelling position battles in progress for the Red Sox.
Once baseball returns, it will be interesting to see what shape those competitions will take and if the layoff impacts some of those involved.
Here are the top battles that are on hold for now.
Defensive specialist Kevin Plawecki entered camp as the backup catcher with no real competition for the job. But things changed on Feb. 19 when Jonathan Lucroy was signed to a Minor League deal that included an invite to Spring Training. It was particularly noteworthy given interim manager Ron Roenicke’s extensive history with Lucroy when he managed him for nearly five seasons in Milwaukee. In fact, Roenicke personally called Lucroy and invited him to try and win a job with the Red Sox.
Though Lucroy seemingly had the inside track upon his arrival, Plawecki didn’t give an inch as the competition evolved, hitting .474 (9-for-19) in 10 games. Lucroy, a former All-Star, hasn’t been close to those numbers during the last couple of seasons as he has battled injuries. However, Lucroy underwent cervical disk replacement surgery on the left side of his neck a few months ago, which left him feeling the best he’s felt in years. He was starting to get into a groove when camp was shut down, going 2-for-2 in his final Spring Training game.
The layoff could benefit Lucroy by allowing him to get more rest. With a 26-man roster, Roenicke said that carrying three catchers is at least a possibility. If the Sox go with two, though, Lucroy’s track record as a hitter probably makes him the favored backup.
Bottom of the rotation
Chris Sale’s status is even less clear now that there’s no telling when the season will begin. Perhaps he won’t miss as much time during the regular season because it will start later than originally expected. Of course, there’s also a chance his left elbow will keep barking and require season-ending surgery. At any rate, the Red Sox currently have two vacancies at the bottom of their rotation.
Ryan Weber, a finesse pitcher who relies on pinpoint location, made a strong push for the No. 4 spot during the spring, striking out 11 batters without issuing a walk or allowing an earned run in his first three appearances. Can he regain that form when action resumes? If so, pencil him in behind Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Martín Pérez as the fourth starter.
The fifth spot is far less clear, but an opener seems more likely than ever as long as Sale is out. More important than who starts the game in that scenario is who takes on the bulk innings in the middle before turning it over to the back end of the bullpen. Darwinzon Hernandez and Colten Brewer are two pitchers who could factor in heavily. During this delay, the Red Sox will have time for many internal discussions about how to format the opener slot in their rotation.
Final bullpen spots
Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden and Heath Hembree -- those six spots seem set. But that still leaves roughly three spots up for grabs. Brewer, Ryan Brasier, Austin Brice, Brian Johnson and Josh Osich seem to be the top five candidates, though two of them will be on the outside looking in. Digging further, Brewer and Brasier look like the favorites to take two of those spots, which would leave Brice, Johnson and Osich fighting for the final slot.
Brice (3.43 ERA in 2019) is coming off a solid season for the Marlins. Johnson has the flexibility to be a swingman. And lefty Osich might be hurt by the new three-batter minimum rule. The Red Sox likely had a pretty good idea which direction they were going in with all this during camp, but they will want to evaluate how each candidate is throwing once teams are cleared to start working out again.
Right side of the infield
Mitch Moreland (first base), Michael Chavis (first and second base) and José Peraza (second and shortstop) are the most significant players in this mix. The question is how Roenicke will split up the playing time. In his first three years with the Red Sox, Moreland generally started at first against right-handers when he was healthy. But the 24-year-old Chavis could be ready to assume some of those at-bats. And reducing Moreland’s playing time wouldn’t be the worst idea given the leg injuries he’s had during his time in Boston.
Peraza will determine how much of a logjam this is based on how well he performs on offense. With the Reds two years ago, he was solid with the bat. Last season? Not so much. If Peraza dips back to his ’19 level, Moreland could get the bulk of time at first while Chavis plays his share of second. The Red Sox are high on Peraza’s defense, so the hope is that he hits enough to keep himself in the lineup on a fairly regular basis.