The Red Sox, owners of a franchise-best 8-1 record so far, are looking excellent. The pitching has been stellar, the offense has sprung to life, and everything’s clicking all at once. Hanley Ramirez looks healthy and has been productive, David Price is doing great things, and even the backups in Eduardo Nunez and Brian Johnson have been rock solid. With all this optimism, it’s somewhat easy to forget that the Red Sox are really relying on their depth a lot in the early going.
The performance of the pitching depth has been the most surprising, as Johnson and Hector Velazquez have combined to allow just two runs in 11.2 innings pitched. They’ve taken care of business where business needed to happen: in Florida, against both the Rays and the Marlins. Granted, we’re not talking turn-of-the-decade-Yankees juggernauts here, but outings like that are always very positive, especially in an environment where baseballs are being launched into the stands more than ever. Eduardo Rodriguez came back a little earlier than expected and had middling results for the first game, and with Drew Pomeranz still about a week away from returning, we’ll be seeing a little more of Johnson, with Velazquez in the bullpen for now.
On the position player side, that depth is about to get tested. Eduardo Nunez is a bench guy already playing due to Dustin Pedroia recovering from knee surgery, but as far as bench players getting a lot of playing time, he’s really the only one. That’s about to change, thanks to the weird, freak injury Xander Bogaerts suffered on Sunday. At first glance, it seemed like a rolled ankle or something just as innocuous, but it was a fair bit worse than that:
Red Sox announce Xander Bogaerts to DL with “small crack” in talus bone
— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) April 9, 2018
Well, that’s a bummer. Thankfully, it’s looking like two weeks until Bogaerts returns. I really feel like crediting the Red Sox for actually letting Bogaerts heal up this time, but that seems like the sort of thing they should do in the first place, not let them play for three months with a bad wrist.
And so the Sox look for a stand-in. Deven Marrero is long gone, as he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks towards the end of Spring Training. Tzu-Wei Lin was called up to take Bogaerts’ roster spot, and he can play both middle infield positions, but he’ll probably take a backseat at shortstop to Eduardo Nunez, while he and Brock Holt trade off at second base. No one else can readily play shortstop for the Red Sox at the moment, and you can’t really count on Marco Hernandez showing up anytime soon, as he’s on the 60-day disabled list, and won’t appear in game action until the end of May. Mitch Moreland is strictly a first baseman, and Blake Swihart is a catcher with corner infield experience in a pinch. There’s not much past Nunez, Lin, and Holt for middle infielders, unless you want to go deep into the minors.
The quality of the middle infielders is just alright. I’d like to be higher on these guys, but we’ve seen their shortcomings. Nunez is fine, Holt is an uninspiring player nowadays, and there’s a pretty wide range of outcomes for Lin should he play a lot over the next couple weeks. I’d honestly like to see more Lin and less Holt, but I’ve been very down on Holt for a long while — with good reason! — so I feel that’s more of a personal preference. Either way, there’s going to be a lot of shuffling around second base.
The Bogaerts injury really forces them to dig deep for infielders, and it’s not like this is a common occurrence.
Injuries like this are really testing the Red Sox early on. It’s not a test to see if they can keep up their winning ways or production — they have above-average regulars at nearly every position. The Bogaerts injury really forces them to dig deep for infielders, and it’s not like this is a common occurrence. Bogaerts is a pretty healthy player, as he’s played 144 games or more in every season since he took hold of a starting job in 2014, so it’s not as if the Sox were lax in looking for a backup here. Bogaerts doesn’t often go down like this, and if it wasn’t already obvious, the “Bogaerts is soft!” complaint doesn’t really hold up.
The Red Sox were more prepared to cover for Pedroia’s absence instead, but with Bogaerts’ injury, it forces them to spread that depth thin across two positions, and potentially field someone like Holt for a not-inconsequential amount of time. That’s a sub-par outcome, for reasons including his poor production in the last two years. But this is what happens when depth is needed, especially for someone that really never needs a break — you’re forced to use guys who aren’t always cut out to be starters at certain positions. It’s times like this when you miss Marrero’s defense, even if that meant biting the bullet when it came to his offense.
This could all just be handwringing. It’s only two weeks or so! The Nunez-Holt-Lin hydra could perform spectacularly and emulate Johnson’s and Velazquez’s starts to the season. That is also possible! All of these players have had very notable runs of success before, for example: Brock Holt, 2015 American League All-Star. Personally, I’d fall on the pessimist side of things here, if only because I keep low expectations in general.
But this is why depth exists. None of them are supposed to be as good as the starter, or else they’d be, y’know, starting. The Red Sox are a stacked team with a lot of good players, and having one of the starting nine be “just alright” won’t trip them up, but it’s probably going to be a bit bland without Bogaerts out there. At least he’ll be back soon, and we can worry no more.
Photo by Greg M. Cooper — USA TODAY Sports