By all indications from Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, it appears the team’s roster for 2015 is nearly complete.
The rotation, despite lacking a true front-line starter, is comprised of five serviceable pitchers that the team’s brass seems comfortable to start the season with. The lineup, boosted by the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, is stacked with legitimate everyday players. Even the bench has plenty of viable candidates that figure to fight for at-bats.
That just leaves the bullpen, an area that Cherington said last week would be the most likely place the team would add to between now and spring training.
As things stand, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica are three sure-bets from last season to return to the pen. Free agent left-hander Craig Breslow, whom the Red Sox declined a team option for at the end of last season, has a deal in place to return to the team that should be announced any day now. There’s also Anthony Varvaro, whose track record as a middle reliever with the Atlanta Braves before being acquired by the Red Sox seems to suggest he’ll earn a spot as well.
With that -- and the fact that the Red Sox often start the season with 13 pitchers on their roster -- in mind, two spots potentially remain up for grabs in the bullpen. One will likely go to a left-hander, while the other figures to be held by a swingman type who can pitch multiple innings.
Of course there are plenty of candidates who could fill those roles -- both in-house and on the free agent market. Here is a look at some of them:
Tommy Layne: Perhaps the most likely option among in-house candidates, Layne posted a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings with the Red Sox last season as a lefty specialist. Held lefties to .159 batting average, compared with .318 against righties.
Drake Britton: A once highly-touted prospect, Britton has shown flashes of late-inning reliever potential during stints with the Red Sox the last two seasons. Lively arm, but often struggles with command. Has no minor league options remaining.
Edwin Escobar: Holding a spot on the 40-man roster, Escobar will at least be with the club in spring training. Minor league starter, but potentially bound for bullpen long term. Has one option remaining, so likely ticketed for Pawtucket.
Neal Cotts: A free agent, Cotts could be an interesting buy-low candidate. Posted excellent numbers with the Texas Rangers in 2013 with a 1.11 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 57 innings, but regressed last season to a 4.32 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. Turns 35 years old on March 25.
Joe Thatcher: Free agent with reliable track record prior to a rough stint with the Angels late last year. Has held lefties to .230 batting average in eight-year career.
Brandon Workman: Cherington indicated earlier this offseason that some of the team’s younger starters could be transitioned to a bullpen role, a process that would likely start with Workman. Struggled in rotation last season after succeeding in pen during 2013 World Series run. Opponents hit .279 off him after first time through order, compared with .228 first time through.
Steven Wright: Wright impressed in his time as a swingman with Boston last season. The knuckleballer pitched multiple innings in relief four times while also making a late-season start. Would offer durable back-up option in addition to an arm capable of eating innings when needed.
Matt Barnes While likely ticketed for Pawtucket’s rotation given his first-round pedigree, Barnes did see some time with the Red Sox as a reliever last season. If needed, Barnes could offer a lively arm capable of pitching multiple innings or getting a big strikeout in a late-game situation.
Anthony Ranaudo: Among the least likely of young Red Sox starters to be converted to reliever given lack of experience performing in such a role. Like Barnes, Ranaudo has first-round pedigree and will likely start the season in Pawtucket. However, his experience with Boston last season could make him an emergency option.
Zeke Spruill: Acquired from the Diamondbacks, the Red Sox were encouraged by what they saw from Spruill when he was converted from a starter to a reliever late last season. Capable of pitching multiple innings. Has one minor league option remaining.
Heath Hembree: Once projected to be a future closer in his time with the San Francisco Giants, Hembree is a hard-throwing reliever with a history of good strikeout rates. Has served as closer in minors, racking up valuable late-inning experience. An unlikely option given his two minor league options remaining.
Burke Badenhop: A free agent, Badenhop provided the Red Sox with everything they needed from him last season. The team’s primary option when a ground ball was needed, Badenhop also pitched in long relief several times during the season to save the bullpen. While he’ll likely look to cash in as a free agent, a reunion with Boston isn’t out of the question.
And don’t forget about potential free agent reclamation projects that the Red Sox could look to bring in on low-risk, high-reward deals late in the offseason. Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Sean Burnett are just a few names on the market that will hope to rebuild their value with a new club next year.