Rosters change, much like the seasons.
As the Red Sox embark on their spring training journey, they unquestionably will feel a roster shift, one that began in 2020 when they traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. Some two years later, they encounter a similar reality following Xander Bogaerts’s departure in free agency.
Still, they have to move forward. Throughout the offseason, the Sox brass — led by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom — have expressed confidence that they are well suited to compete in the American League East.
To reach that lofty goal, of course, it will require some new faces.
The Sox have a bit more clarity heading into this spring than they did last year. The 99-day MLB lockout in 2022 halted any vision Bloom and his staff had. The Sox, like all teams, were allowed to make only minor league transactions during that period.
Bloom has made it clear that his vision involves building a sustainable winner. The Sox didn’t hit on all of their free agents this offseason. Bogaerts trading in his Sox jersey for a Padres uniform will be an adjustment. But how much turnover will they have to endure? What new key pieces can make an impact?
The pitching depth, particularly in the bullpen, has seen a complete overhaul.
Consider: Just before the Sox opened camp last year, they had 22 pitchers on the 40-man roster. They then added Jake Diekman, which made it 23. Of those 23, just 10 are still with the Sox.
The rotation will be some combination of Chris Sale, James Paxton, Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock, Corey Kluber, Nick Pivetta, and Tanner Houck, with Houck seen more as a weapon out of the bullpen.
Kluber, technically, is the only newcomer of the crew, but Sale and Paxton have missed so much time with injuries that they might as well be, too.
Bello, though, is at the head of some young talent that intrigues the Sox.
Last spring, Bello was already a big name within the system, though somewhat of an unknown to Red Sox fans. He had steamrolled his way through High A Greenville in 2021, reaching Double A Portland and making a large impression there, too.
He continued that into 2022 with Triple A Worcester, earning a big league call-up in July. When September rolled around, Bello was one of the Sox’ best pitchers, registering a 1.65 ERA in five starts that month. He comes into this spring vying for a spot in the rotation.
Bryan Mata is another young name that will be watched closely this spring. The Sox’ top pitching prospect returned to the mound last year following Tommy John surgery in 2021. Mata worked his way up the ladder from Low A Salem to Worcester. The 6-foot-3-inch, 238-pound righthander tossed 83 innings in his four stops, registering a 2.49 ERA while holding opponents to a .201 batting average.
“I think we’re in a better spot now than we have been in recent years,” general manager Brian O’Halloran said. “Both in terms of some quality guys like Bello who came up last year and showed obviously great stuff and exciting promise and a whole slew of guys, a couple of whom came up and took a few lumps but showed what they can do, as well as just the depth at Triple A.”
Currently, the pitching depth on the 40-man roster measures out to roughly 10 or so new arms that weren’t at camp last year. It’s a mix of young and older. Chris Martin and Kenley Jansen represent the biggest offseason acquisitions to fortify the bullpen. Brandon Walter and Chris Murphy (both on the 40-man) are intriguing lefty prospects. Taylor Broadway, a nonroster invitee who was traded by the White Sox in August of last year, will make his debut at Fenway South.
When it comes to position players, the catching spot is a huge area of concern. The Sox enter spring training with two catchers on the 40-man roster in Connor Wong and Reese McGuire. They take the spots of Christian Vázquez, who was traded to Houston last year, and Kevin Plawecki (designated for assignment). The Sox had a chance to add Vázquez back to the fold, but he instead signed with the Twins.
Bloom added 29-year-old catcher Jorge Alfaro to the mix in January, signing him to a minor league deal. Alfaro headlines a list of four nonroster invitee catchers, along with Caleb Hamilton, Ronaldo Hernandez, and Stephen Scott, bringing the total to six.
Depth? Sure. But quality depth is lacking.
Triston Casas was a nonroster invitee last year. Now he’s the clear-cut first baseman.
Third baseman Enmanuel Valdez, who was part of the Vázquez trade, is another player to watch. He hit .296 with three minor league teams last year, though just .237 with the WooSox. Valdez is a bat-first player known for his power, belting 28 homers last year.
The biggest name of them all, however, is Ceddanne Rafaela. In a season of lowlights for the big league club, Rafaela brought optimism and highlights to the minor league stage. He hit .299/.342/.539 with an .880 OPS between Greenville and Portland. Rafaela has drawn comparisons to Betts and is seen by some as a Gold Glove talent in the outfield, with his infield skills not far behind.
Infielders Jonathan Aráuz, Bogaerts, Jeter Downs, and Hudson Potts were a part of big league camp last year; they are gone, leaving Kiké Hernández, Bobby Dalbec, Christian Arroyo, and Rafael Devers to open up camp.
Middle infielder Adalberto Mondesí was acquired in a trade with the Royals, but he won’t be ready right away as he is still recovering from an ACL tear. And Trevor Story, of course, will miss a chunk of the season after having elbow surgery.
The Sox also acquired Justin Turner, who should get some reps at first base but is more suited for the designated hitter’s spot, replacing J.D. Martinez.
The Sox opened last spring with Jackie Bradley Jr., Jarren Duran, Jeisson Rosario, and Alex Verdugo in the outfield.
They have replaced two of those players (Bradley and Rosario) with Wilyer Abreu (also in the Vázquez trade), Masataka Yoshida, and Adam Duvall. Duran is looking to make some type of noise in the spring after a forgettable 2022 highlighted by his struggles in center.
Rob Refsnyder rounds out the outfield list after being a nonroster invitee last year.
The Sox roster has seen some change. Whether it’s good change that will lead to a playoff run remains to be seen.