Click here for the Red Sox’s 2006 depth chart.
C Jason Varitek: He’s known for his work ethic and fitness, and his efforts have paid off. Not having to catch Tim Wakefield every fifth day will give him enough rest to keep him healthy, but he is still at a very dangerous age for a catcher.
1B Kevin Youkilis / 1B J.T. Snow: It’s unclear just how this platoon will work out in terms of playing time. Giving Youkilis the lion’s share of plate appearances will help mitigate Snow’s hamstring and back problems.
2B Mark Loretta: Much of Loretta’s 2005 was marred by a torn ligament in his left thumb. The good news is that thumb problems seldom recur, once fully fixed. His history of good health over the past couple seasons further quells any serious concerns. The other rub is that there are not many comparable cases to look at, so the small sample size deserves mention.
3B Mike Lowell: Lowell’s production plummeted massively last year, and that large drop-off suggests that perhaps he was trying to play through an injury. Whatever it was, the real question is: do you really want him taking 600 plate appearances?
SS Alex Gonzalez: He has chronic hamstring problems, and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow this off-season. He was limited to 130 games in 2005, and his chronic injuries are likely to recur in some capacity.
CF Coco Crisp: After spraining his right thumb in mid-May last season sliding into third, reports indicated that Crisp may have been headed for the operating table. Luckily for him, it only sidelined him for 16 days. It was an isolated injury, one unlikely to cause much future trouble.
RF Trot Nixon / RF Dustan Mohr: Nixon is aging rapidly, and his injuries (and their complications) seem to be getting more serious. Dustan Mohr should prove an adequate caddy–he was placed on the DL with calf problems last year, but that seems to be an isolated incident. The chances that Nixon stays healthy throughout the season are very slim, meaning more plate appearances for Mohr than the Sox may like. Team Canada hero Adam Stern may turn out to be a useful player, and could serve in a similar speed-off-the-bench capacity to Dave Roberts circa 2004, although he has been slowed down by injuries as well.
DH David Ortiz
SP Curt Schilling: Schilling started the year on the disabled list last season after enduring his famed 2004 ALCS ankle sutures. He admittedly rushed back too early, making his first appearance in mid-April. Eleven days after being activated, he was back on the DL, and stayed on until mid-July. He had trouble pushing off last season, but Will Carroll notes that Schilling looks healthier this season and appears to have regained some of his lost velocity. There really are no comparables for this type of experimental surgery, so it’s tough to predict how he will rebound now that he has two off-seasons under his belt.
SP Josh Beckett: His propensity to get injured is as undeniable as the quality of his stuff. Beckett bounced onto the disabled list twice last year, first for recurring blisters on his right middle finger, and later for a left oblique strain. Both of these injuries are chronic, and have prevented him from cracking the 200-inning threshold. Being forced to limit his innings at a young age could help him in the long run, but the Sox are counting on him to surpass his innings-pitched career high of 179.2, and that could pose a bit of a problem.
SP David Wells: Wells has been hampered by chronic foot and knee injuries, and he’s getting closer to being able to get those nifty AARP discounts. He should be good for close to 200 innings, and if he can keep his mouth shut, he might even be able to squeeze in a couple more starts. Even though he’s old, he’s been reliable. This is a low yellow.
SP Bronson Arroyo: Now that Wells has rescinded his trade request, it’s tough to know whether Arroyo will be in the bullpen or rotation. If the Sox don’t move a starter, having Arroyo as a sixth man and all-around insurance policy adds good depth to the staff in case of any significant time missed by Schilling or Beckett.
CL Keith Foulke: Foulke tried to pitch through last year’s knee troubles, with disastrous results. By July, the Sox finally decided to place him on the disabled list, only activating him after rosters expanded in September. Foulke had offseason surgery on both of his knees, and is now getting Synvisc injections. As of this writing, he has yet to pitch in an exhibition game, but still maintains that he will be ready by opening day. Even if he makes that deadline, he may still feel the effects of his surgeries. Unlike last year, the Sox do have good bullpen depth, so if Foulke goes down, there are many plausible alternatives.
The Red Sox are learning from their mistakes. After pitching through a severe injury to both of his knees last season, Keith Foulke finally hit the disabled list on July 6. The once-dominant hero of the 2004 postseason had been utterly ineffective all year, and the Red Sox really had no one to look to. Alan Embree was jettisoned, and the always-fragile Matt Mantei was done for the season with a left ankle ligament sprain. This left the bullpen particularly thin, especially since moving Mike Timlin to the closer spot weakened Boston’s options in middle relief. This year, the Sox have worked to rectify their situation by adding vital components to their rotation and bullpen, building sufficient depth to be able to cope with injuries similar to the ones they suffered in 2005.
Boston’s front office knows that key members of its rotation could easily miss well over a month apiece–Beckett with his blisters and oblique, Schilling with his ankle complications, Wells from his chronic foot and knee problems. Anticipating those issues, the team has held on to Bronson Arroyo and young Jonathan Papelbon, who was brought up through the organization as a starter after being converted from a closer in college. Papelbon is an interesting case. He gets a high yellow because the system doesn’t like young pitchers with an anticipated innings rise, so stashing him in the bullpen could help limit his risk. What he has going for him are fantastic mechanics and the sort of makeup that scouts drool over. It bears watching to see how the Sox choose to work him into their plans. Either way, it seems increasingly likely that, with five more established starters ahead of them, both Arroyo and Papelbon may very well end up in the bullpen to begin the season (another option for Papelbon would be in Pawtucket). That said, manager Terry Francona shouldn’t get too comfortable calling on them to help in the later innings, because he might be penciling their names into the rotation sooner than he thinks.
Depth is certainly the name of the game, and the other notable off-season additions all come with some calculated risk. Mark Loretta and Coco Crisp are good bets to recover nicely from their thumb injuries; Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez both have minor tweaks, but those shouldn’t prove much of an obstacle health-wise. Rudy Seanez, Julian Tavarez, and David Riske provide better bullpen depth, although Seanez isn’t that far removed from serious shoulder problems, and Tavarez has had some hamstring and leg problems in the past. None of these guys is a sure thing, but all of them are more reliable than a Scott Williamson or a Matt Mantei.
Trot Nixon remains their only truly injury-prone starting position player, certainly welcome news for head trainer Jim Rowe and his staff. Nixon lost most of 2004 with leg trouble, and a fair amount of 2005 with an oblique strain. Both are worrisome chronic injuries which are likely to revisit him, and even with the benefit of a platoon partner, he is still likely to hit the DL at some point this season. The bad news for the medical staff is that, unlike their pitching, the Sox are pretty thin in the outfield. As Boston waits for Brandon Moss, David Murphy, and the younger Jacoby Ellsbury to work through the farm system, they remain exposed in the outfield. Elsewhere on the diamond, PECOTA favorite Dustin Pedroia is an extremely high yellow. As Sox fans know too well, his wrist injury is bad news, as those types of problems almost always recur. Pedroia is also a “high effort” player whose exertion and hustle force him to dive and stretch all over the place, increasing his chances of getting banged-up and bruised.
These are all calculated risks for Boston’s front office. The Sox do a good job of recognizing their potential weaknesses and working to bolster those positions. It’s possible that the Sox could sacrifice some of their pitching depth to strengthen their outfield. No matter what, you can bet that there will be a lot of phone calls between the front office and the medical staff, as Theo and company begin to identify which players they can count on.