The Devil’s Workshop: Exploring Dave Dombrowski’s Bench Options

Although the Boston Red Sox are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it is time to accept that the season is over. As the team plays out the string and the kids continue to play well, Rick Rowand takes us on a journey exploring Dave Dombrowski’s options with regards to the bench.

Since Dave Dombrowski joined the Boston Red Sox on August 18 as the new President of Baseball Operations, information coming from Yawkey Way about the team’s future direction has been almost non-existent, which is to be expected. But it leaves people like us with idle hands and idle minds. It’s like living in the the devil’s workshop on steroids. So, except for articles on moves like the De Aza trade, or Papi reaching the 500 home run milestone, we get to fill space by making slightly educated guesses on what Dombrowski will be doing to remake the current team for 2016 and beyond.

We’ll be breaking this down into a series of articles on the starters,  the coaching staff, the everyday players and the bullpen and bench.  

The Sox started this season touting their “Ace! We don’t need no stinkin’ ace!” strategy, but the inconsistency of their starters combined with the ineptitude of the pen and lack of offense doomed that strategy to failure. It hasn’t been until recently that the majority of the starters and the offense have been living up to expectations. Day late…

Dave Dombrowski is in a very enviable position. He has one of the best farm systems in baseball, one that is already contributing to the resurgence of the team in Boston. To go with those riches, he has a major league club which is only a few moves away from competing for the playoffs again (and he has Ben Cherington and the rest of Baseball Ops to thank for that).

As we’ve all heard, the word out of Yawkey Way is that the plan going into next season is to have Hanley Ramirez play first base. And barring any trades, it looks like the rest of the defensive positions will be manned by the current starters. Using this information, we have a pretty good idea about who the Red Sox will employ as the bench players for next year.

From right to left the starters in the infield will be Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and Ramirez. Of those four, one is not like the others in a number of ways, but there’s only one we’ll concern ourselves with today. Number of games played.

Out of 150 possible games so far, Bogaerts has been the only consistent infielder for the Red Sox, with 144 games played.

Sandoval has played in 126 games, and it could be argued that the total should be less because he played through injuries that should have landed him on the DL.

Pedroia has played in 84. Even with 12 more starts, this will be his lowest total since 2010, when he played in 75. Even with his injury history, the previous low was 135 last season.

Which brings us to Ramirez. He sits at 105 games played. Similar to Sandoval, it can be argued that that total should be even lower because his performance suffered as he played through various injuries. And the DL is where he currently resides with a right shoulder injury. He hasn’t appeared in a game since 8/26. Since he is unable to throw, he has been working on his fielding and footwork at first prior to games.

Now, no one was expecting any of the three elder statesmen of the infield to appear in 150 games or more because of the normal amount of days off players need. But with these three you need to bank on them missing more than the usual 12-15 games because of injuries. Additionally,the older these players get, their injuries will occur more frequently and their recovery time will extend beyond what they are used to.

The Bench

Myself, and others, have written extensively on the phenomenon that is Brock Holt! this season. Ned Yost liked his aura so much that he named him to the All Star team. One could even argue that, because of what he’s done, he could be in the conversation, along with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, for team MVP. I’m going with Bogaerts myself, but that’s for another day.

So far this season, Supersub Brock Holt has played in 120 games, making him a de facto starter without a position. That total easily eclipses the 106 games he played in last year. He has played eight games at first, 57 at second, 30 at third, 11 at short, 13 in left, two in center and 18 in right. Sometimes changing positions mid-game to suit the needs of the team. He did all this while batting .283/.349/.382 with 24 doubles and eight stolen bases. About the only thing his game lacks is home run power, with just two this season.

Since Mike Napoli was traded and Ramirez placed on the DL, Travis Shaw has been the starter at first, but if what Dombrowski has been saying in regards to Ramirez holds true, he will go into Spring Training as the backup at first and third. In his 56 games with the Sox he has hit .294/.362/.531 with 11 home runs while playing average defense.

Josh Rutledge was acquired from the Angels in the Shane Victorino trade and has appeared in 31 games for the Red Sox. He’s primarily played second, but has also played a handful of games at third and can also play a passable shortstop. He played 140 games there for the Rockies between 2012-2014. He’s hit .316/.373/.368 so far for the Sox.

Deven Marrero has been used as a utility player, and based on his age (26) going into Spring Training, and his career numbers in the minors, that’s a role he should get used to. He’s played four games at third, four at short and three at second. His batting line in 19 plate appearances is .364/.364/.364.

Allen Craig is in the discussion solely because he’s the only guy on the roster after Holt with any outfield experience. He’s only played 31 games for the Sox this season, as he spent the majority of the year in Pawtucket trying to find where Waldo and his swing are. In his time with the Sox this year he’s put up a line that even Mendoza would be ashamed of, .134/.237/.194. He’s been a shell of his former self since he injured his foot in 2013. Allegedly, he has recovered fully, but his bat never has and at this point, it’s doubtful that it ever will. Unfortunately, he’s still under contract through the 2017 season and will be paid $20 million to do whatever. There is also an option year for 2018 with a $1 million buyout.

With Christian Vazquez rehabbing his arm after Tommy John surgery, and not throwing in a game until Spring Training, it looks like the catcher situation is all set for now with Blake Swihart as the starter and Ryan Hanigan playing the role of veteran backup. Once the team sees how Vazquez’ arm reacts to game situations, both in the Spring and likely Pawtucket to begin the season, then they’ll be able to decide what direction they want to go for the long-term.

The Sox went into the season last year with three bench players, not including the catcher. Holt, Craig and the dearly departed Daniel Nava. Dombrowski has to do something with Craig, even though it will cost the team dearly in dollars. He’s just not a valuable player with those dollars attached to him, not even in a backup role. With the numbers he’s been putting up, Shaw would be a valuable trade chip, but if the Hanley experiment goes awry, and with the injury potential to both Ramirez and Sandoval, you need someone like him as the backup, especially if either, or both, go down for an extended period of time. So that leaves them with either Marrero or Rutledge to go along with Holt and Shaw.

Rutledge has the better track record. Marrero is a bigger question mark at the plate, but they both play the same positions. Rutledge should have more value in a trade, which they will need to make for pitching help. I think they keep Marrero and try to see if he can also play in the outfield. Holt will be the only backup in the outfield, unless they are able to find a decent one to ride the bench, and then they can go with Holt, Shaw and Player X, with Rutledge traded and Marrero either traded or sent back to AAA.

*Click here for Rick’s rotation planhere for the lineup plan and here for the coaches.

Rick Rowand has written about the value of Brock Holt, Boston’s rotationBrock Holt’s cycle and aura, and a series about Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart, a screenplay of Napoli’s last days on the Sox, Travis Shaw, what to do with Hanley Ramirez, and Kim Ng.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

Check out the collection of Tom Wright’s Island of Misfit Teams.

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