28 March 2006

Red Sox Roster Depth

With the Julian Tavarez Mike Tyson Punch Out yesterday, I actually started to jot down the possible replacements for him if he were to get injured (of course we can't replace his roster spot if suspended). I was immediately struck by the organizational depth at pitching we were beginning to show, especially in the bullpen.

Last year, when the bullpen more or less imploded, the best the Sox could do was promote a not-quite-ready Manny Delcarmen, rush Craig Hansen to the big leagues after a full season at St. John's and subsequent rest, and then provide a revolving door to ever retread warm body they could get their hands on. Harville, Stanton, Remlinger, Blaine Neal. This was essentially what went wrong with Boston last year- a poorly constructed bullpen and no good resources to rebound from further disaster. It was an absolute worst-case-scenario.

This year, they took an active approach- a positive sign to those who (rightly) claimed that Theo's Achilles heel appeared to be putting together a deep bullpen. In the offseason, the plan appeared to be further development of the short inning power arms in the system (Martinez, Delcarmen, Hansen, Meredith), sign some upper-tier relievers to short contracts, and establish a buttress for the major league staff.

Here's how the bullpen (roughly) shakes down as of today:

  • Keith Foulke (R)

  • Mike Timlin (R)

  • Rudy Seanez (R)

  • Julian Tavarez (R)

  • David Riske (R)

  • Jonathan Papelbon (R)

  • Lenny Dinardo (L)

  • Now, understanding that with Pena/ Choi/ Snow/ Mohr/ Graffanino/ Cora/ Harris/ Machado/ Stern, there's roster crunch, and that seven pitchers may only be a reality until the fifth starter in Wells is needed. I'll take a stab at how the full roster could shape out later on.

    But considering these pitchers, a number of things could happen- Seanez has shown some trouble staying healthy, and a small sample issue with the American League. His spring started rough, but has settled down and he's pitched well of late. David Riske has some concerns over his K rate, a poor spring. Timlin isn't getting any younger (though should largely be considered a pretty ironclad healthy pitcher, knock on wood), and Tavarez, as we can see, may be more trouble than he's worth (though not nearly yet, I think).

    The following pitchers are going to be at AAA (or possibly AA in some cases) and available to supplement the bullpen should any of this become an issue:

  • Craig Hansen (R)

  • Abe Alvarez (L)

  • Manny Delcarmen (R)

  • Edgar Martinez (R)

  • Cla Meredith (R)

  • Jermaine Van Buren (R)

  • In addition, there's some hope that Lester can progress along a similar path as Papelbon in 2005- making some spot starts mid-season and then being added to the bullpen when rosters expand. It's not a crazy thought, but the nice thing here is that it appears there's no reason to rush him this season. Hansen, Delcarmen, and Van Buren should be, at this point, considered able to get major league hitters out with at least a slightly above league average rate. Hansen, of course, has the highest ceiling, but Delcarmen and Van Buren could be excellent- if not at least adequate- as well.

    The Red Sox have five starting pitchers, as well as two in their bullpen- Papelbon and Dinardo- capable of starting. Dinardo can serve as a perfectly capable spot starter (especially considering his ability to keep the ball on the ground, and a slightly reverse split) if need be, and should the need be long term, Papelbon could move down to AAA to "lengthen his arm," and take over for Dinardo thereafter. Alvarez is a very capable long man to replace Dinardo (though not ideal), and one of Hansen, Delcarmen can move into whatever becomes of Papelbon's role.

    Even after acquiring a very good young player from that strength, there is still a lot of depth, enough to engender more comfort than last year. A lot was made of Francona's lack of confidence in, among others, Delcarmen- but this is unfair if only because, at the time, Manny was having a tough time with his location and keeping hitters off the bases. This may always be an issue with Manny, but some more time at AAA can only improve that. His K rates last year stayed intact even after jumping to the MLB (although in very limited space).

    This is not to suggest that the current MLB veteran bullpen-ers aren't adequate- they are. I think Tavarez was a great pickup, and I think that Seanez can give us some quality innings. With Timlin and Papelbon too, they won't necessarily have to be the highest-leverage ones either. A lot rides on Foulke but, again, there is depth present there. Whether it's Papelbon, Timlin or Hansen that steps in for Foulke should he go down (I think Papelbon should be used as a 3+ IP relief ace, and NOT a one inning closer), there are quality arms to slot into the void that results.

    As promising as the veteran part of the bullpen is, however, the fickle nature of a bullpen suggests that, on some level, one of a few of these pitchers aren't going to produce. Injury, suspension- whatever. The accumulating depth is only a great thing for the team. The team certainly takes a hit in quality if, say, Lenny Dinardo is taking Josh Beckett's innings due to injury- but Dinardo has progressed to the point that it won't kill us either, and won't require a token Frank Castillo flashback, or a Halama sighting.

    "Depth" is present in the positional sense as well, although not immediately like it is for the bullpen with Red Sox farmhands. In the book Mind Game, one of the praises handed Theo was his willingness to go after good talent independent of need- like stocking up on 3B/ 1B/ DH types in 2003, and scoring a David Ortiz. This winter as seen the same thing- Theo has accumulated a number of corner IF types, using some to address other needs (Hillenbrand/ Marte), and stockpiling the rest just because he can. The claiming of Choi off waivers and the team's reported interest in recently released Carlos Pena are perfect examples- the team's flexibility in responding to, say, the failure of a Mike Lowell risk is invaluable. By putting together a horde of players with solid skill sets, Theo is (in some small way) injury-proofing the team, while getting younger, more athletic, and even LESS injury prone. Wily Mo Pena provides a very solid platoon partner for Trot Nixon AND as the best injury replacement they've had for Nixon's inevitable yearly DL stint.

    Choi has an option, and can be kept at Pawtucket should Snow provide negative value- and ditto that for Lowell, allowing Youkilis to assume third base, with Choi taking over at 1B. Choi may even be the best player in this stockpile, but since his status is flexible, and he's relatively young, he becomes the insurance policy for this year.

    It's tough to see how Francona will respond to this- he's had very good benches in his past, but likely hasn't had a hitter as weak as say, Josh Bard or Alex Gonzalez in his lineups. Will he use his bench strength to pinch hit late more, or will he defer to his veterans and not want to spoil their "confidence"? It should be interesting. JT Snow may end up getting a leash way too long considering the alternatives available, but hopefully they're not so married to the idea of keeping Lowell and Snow keeping ABs if they're not producing.

    While Tony Graffanino will be gone in some way, shape or form by Wednesday- Alex Cora and, eventually (pending injury recovery) will be the middle IF depth, with Cora providing excellent defense at both positions, and Pedroia representing a big offensive boost once he climbs to the MLB club. Worth keeping an eye on. Here's a stab at a depth chart from the 40 man roster (assuming Graffanino's gone):

    Jason Varitek (S)
    Josh Bard (R)

    Kevin Youkilis (R)
    Hee Seop Choi (L)
    JT Snow (L)
    Mike Lowell (R)

    Mark Loretta (R)
    Alex Cora (L)

    Alex Gonzalez (R)
    Alex Cora (L)

    Mike Lowell (R)
    Kevin Youkilis (R)
    Alex Cora (L)

    Trot Nixon (L)
    Wily Mo Pena (R)
    Adam Stern (L)

    Coco Crisp (S)
    Wily Mo Pena (R)
    Adam Stern (L)

    Manny Ramirez (R)
    Wily Mo Pena (R)
    Adam Stern (L)

    David Ortiz (L)
    (anybody else can go here)

    Curt Schilling (RHP)
    Josh Beckett (RHP)
    Matt Clement (RHP)
    Tim Wakefield (RHP)
    David Wells (LHP)
    Jonathan Papelbon (RHP)
    Lenny Dinardo (LHP)
    Abe Alvarez (LHP)

    Keith Foulke (RHP)
    Mike Timlin (RHP)
    Jonathan Papelbon (RHP)
    Julian Tavarez (RHP)
    Rudy Seanez (RHP)
    David Riske (RHP)
    Lenny Dinardo (LHP)
    Craig Hansen (RHP)
    Manny Delcarmen (RHP)
    Jermain Van Buren (RHP)
    Cla Meredith (RHP)
    Abe Alvarez (LHP)
    Edgar Martinez (RHP)
    Jon Lester (LHP)
    David Pauley (RHP)

    Keep also in mind- Dustan Mohr, Dustin Pedroia, Willie Harris are all non-roster invitees, so I didn't include them. Many of these guys will be, naturally at AAA when the season starts (Stern 18 days after the seasons starts), so this is just a quick and dirty look at depth.

    It's a really promising development, I think.

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