4 questions for Red Sox before Opening Day

March 23rd, 2021

With exactly one week left in Spring Training, the Red Sox can see the finish line and start to envision what it will be like to take the field at Fenway Park on April 1 against the Orioles.

But until that time comes, there are still some decisions to be made.

Here is a look at what manager Alex Cora and his staff will be evaluating most closely in the final days of Grapefruit League action.

1) Who is the closer?
It seems to be a two-horse race between seasoned righties Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino. Barnes is the veteran leader of Boston’s bullpen, a proud member of the organization since he was drafted in 2011. Ottavino is the key newcomer, having pitched the past two seasons for the Yankees. He is also very familiar with Boston, having pitched his college days at Northeastern University.

Barnes and Ottavino have similar track records in that they’ve long been considered strong setup men, but they have only had small tastes of closing opportunities. They are also both hungry to win the role this year -- their final seasons before free agency.

Neither pitcher has allowed an earned run in each of their four Grapefruit League outings. Barnes has looked a bit sharper in doing so, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out eight. Ottavino has given up five hits and one walk to go with four strikeouts.

“We’re getting close,” said Cora. “I do believe both of them are throwing the ball well. It’s just a matter to make that decision, and like I said, before we go to Boston, we’ll know how the structure is going to be. But I’m not ready to name a closer yet.”

2) Franchy for Opening Day?
Outfielder Franchy Cordero had a late start to Spring Training due to COVID-19 and the subsequent protocols that he had to clear before he could start working out with his new team. The Red Sox are excited about the lefty slugger they received in exchange for Andrew Benintendi, but they are aware of his history of injuries and don’t want to push him too fast.

Cordero has played in two Grapefruit League games so far -- one as the deginated hitter on Saturday vs. the Braves and one in left field on Monday against the Rays.

“I just saw him walking around,” Cora said Tuesday morning. “He seems like he's OK. We actually have a B game today at 10. He's probably going to get at-bats in that game. That's a good sign.”

Cordero is expected to play left field on Wednesday and Friday, so the Red Sox should have a better idea of his readiness after that.

3) Who will win the final bench spot?
Assuming Cordero convinces the brass that he’s good to go for Opening Day, the Red Sox will have to decide between Christian Arroyo or Michael Chavis for the final spot on the bench.

Both players have boosted their candidacies with strong camps. Chavis has six homers and Arroyo has three. Arroyo has added strong defense to the mix.

If it comes down to organizational depth, Arroyo is likely to win the spot because he is out of options, while Chavis has options remaining.

“It’s fun to watch and that’s what it’s all about, right? Both are doing an amazing job,” said Cora. “We’re moving them around in the infield, they’re getting their at-bats. I think both of them are leading the team in at-bats during Spring Training.”

4) Who will fill the last two bullpen spots?
The Red Sox will carry nine relievers to open the season. Here are the ones who are certain to make the team: Barnes, Ottavino, Hirokazu Sawamura, Darwinzon Hernandez, Matt Andriese, Josh Taylor and Rule 5 Draft pick Garrett Whitlock.

With Ryan Brasier all but certain to start the season on the injured list, that leaves Austin Brice, Colten Brewer, Kevin McCarthy, Phillips Valdez and Marcus Walden as the candidates competing for those final two slots.

Typically, the edge would go to players on the 40-man roster. Of those five, Brewer, Brice and Valdez fit that bill. However, Valdez, who was very effective last season, has given up multiple runs in three of his six outings this spring, including Tuesday in Boston's 7-6 win over Atlanta. Brewer hasn’t been particularly sharp either, and he has given up two homers -- including one on Tuesday -- in 4 1/3 innings. Brice was hit around his last time out, giving up a pair of runs.

McCarthy has definitely pitched the best of the group as Tuesday marked his fifth straight outing without allowing a run. He also hasn’t walked anyone in his six innings. But will the Red Sox clear a spot on the 40-man to put him on the team? We will soon find out.

“I mean we’ve got options, but it’s just a matter, like I said, structure is very important,” said Cora. “The beauty of 14 pitchers is that we’ll be able to go longer with certain guys in certain situations, and then you’ll be covered if something happens the next day. So length is very important.

“That’s going to be something we are looking for. And I think the guys that are in the mix, they can give us six outs. Some of them can give us nine in certain situations. So I’ll leave it at that. But I think whoever we take in that spot, or those two spots, like you put it, they’re going to be capable of giving us multiple innings.”