FORT MYERS, Fla. — The process of picking the players who will make up their bench became a little more complicated for the Red Sox once it became evident that designated hitter David Ortiz would start the season on the disabled list.
The Red Sox are planning to rotate players as the DH, and manager John Farrell will try different combinations of players in his lineup. That will require more versatility off the bench.
With nine days of spring training remaining, there is some clarity.
Two spots are set. David Ross will be the backup catcher, and the Red Sox value the versatility and speed of infielder Pedro Ciriaco. If Ciriaco is recovered from back spasms, his spot on the roster is safe. He can fill in at second base, shortstop, and third base and would be an effective pinch runner.
That appears to leave five players — Jackie Bradley Jr., Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, Lyle Overbay, and Ryan Sweeney — fighting for three spots.
Bradley has had a terrific spring, hitting .444 with a 1.127 OPS in 55 plate appearances.
“It’s hard to ignore what he’s done this spring,” said general manager Ben Cherington.
But the 23-year-old has no experience beyond Double A and is not on the 40-man roster. Keeping Bradley from the start of the season would cost the Red Sox a year of control and lead to his being eligible for free agency after the 2018 season instead of 2019.
So while Bradley has made a compelling case on the field, there is an internal debate about where he will start the season.
“We haven’t made any decisions,” Cherington said. “We’ve got spots up for competition. I think anybody who is in big league camp this late in the spring has a chance to make the team.”
According to Cherington, keeping Bradley under control for another season is not a primary motivation.
“There’s all sorts of factors to consider,” said the GM. “But I think the simplest ones are probably the most important. Those are: Is there an everyday role? Is the player really ready for it? And what’s our best team? If we use that to guide us, more often than not we’ll make the right decision.”
Nava is ahead of the pack to go to New York with the Sox to start the season. The 30-year-old switch-hitter has been much better in his career batting lefthanded, and his plate discipline would make him a good choice to hit second against righthanders.
Nava’s outfield defense has improved significantly the last two seasons. He also started playing first base during spring training and has logged 18 innings there. The Sox seem comfortable with him there if needed.
“I feel like things are going well,” Nava said. “I was made aware of what they expected out of me with the positional changes. At the very least, I went about it with a good effort and I hope things will follow from there.”
Nava has produced at the plate, hitting .325 with a .794 OPS entering Thursday’s game against Philadelphia.
“It would mean a lot to me to be a part of this from the start,” said Nava, who has never made an Opening Day roster. “It’s not the end-all for me but I like the way this team has come together.”
Said Cherington, “He’s done a good job. He’s had consistently good at-bats and shown well defensively at all the spots he’s been at.”
Sweeney’s advantage is that he can play all three outfield positions and play them well. But he is hitting .244 in camp with a .275 slugging percentage. The 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Sweeney has not hit a home run since July 27, 2011.
“I feel good about my swing, actually,” Sweeney said. “If this was a normal spring training for me, I wouldn’t care about the stats. But I’m trying to make the team.”
Carp is the best first baseman of the bunch and has played 16 innings in left field. He has hit .212 in spring training with a low .611 OPS. The Red Sox acquired him from the Mariners Feb. 20 because they felt he was an upgrade on what they already had.
“Hopefully they feel like I can help the team,” Carp said. “I’ve tried to show them what I can do. It was a little hectic getting here late.”
Overbay, 36, has hit .242 in spring training. Once Carp was added, his chances were diminished.
There also are contractual matters to consider.
Carp and Nava are on the 40-man roster, so adding them to the 25-man would not require a roster move. That works in their favor.
Carp does not have any minor league options remaining, which also could lead to his sticking. Nava does have minor league options.
The Red Sox will have to make a decision on Overbay by Tuesday. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, any free agent with six years of service time who accepts a minor league contract must be told five days prior to Opening Day whether he will make the 25-man roster.
If that player accepts an assignment to Triple A, he will receive a $100,000 retention bonus. The player can then opt out of the contact June 1 if not in the majors.
Sweeney does not have those rights. But he did negotiate an opt-out clause for March 28 (next Thursday).
The other candidate worth mentioning is Mauro Gomez, a 28-year-old career minor leaguer who hit .275 with a .746 OPS in 37 games for the Red Sox last season.
Gomez was the International League MVP last season and had a strong winter season in the Dominican Republic. But Gomez is of little use defensively. He is, at best, an adequate first baseman.
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway filled in for Ortiz as a designated hitter during the 2011 season. His addition also would allow the Red Sox to use Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the DH on occasion. But Farrell has indicated that the Sox are unlikely to go with three catchers.
Lavarnway is hitting .158 with a .379 OPS in spring training. That factors in as well.