FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s fairly simple to pick the 13 position players on the Red Sox. Take the starting nine and add Mike Cameron, Jed Lowrie, Darnell McDonald and Jason Varitek.
You know the rotation, too. And, yes, Daisuke Matsuzaka will be part of it. Most well-run teams don’t trade starters three weeks before the season starts unless there is a no-doubt-about-it replacement. And last I checked, the Sox do not have any of those kicking around.
That brings us to the bullpen. Put a check next to the names of Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler.
Those other three spots are where the questions are. Let’s take a look at the candidates with the spring training schedule a little more than half over:
Tim Wakefield: He is signed to a $2 million contract for this season. His role at this point can be defined as extra starter/innings eater. There is value in that role, especially if (or when) Matsuzaka goes on the DL.
Do the Sox have the option of releasing Wakefield, paying him off and keeping a more versatile reliever? Sure. But there are no signs of that happening.
Scott Atchison: Terry Francona likes him very much. The front office likes that he has an option left. That could leave him in the minors to start the season. But somebody else has to prove they belong ahead of him.
Matt Albers: He was driftwood in Baltimore, a guy with a 1.52 WHIP and a 5.8 K/9. But the Sox have been impressed so far this spring. Surprisingly, he has a shot.
Hideki Okajima: He also has options and like Atchison, that could lead him to Pawtucket to start the year. There ave been flashes of the old Oki in spring and flashes of the guy who has been in decline for several years.
Dennys Reyes: He has opt out on March 25, so the Sox will have to arrive at some sort of conclusion. He has looked sharp so far. The big lefty also has the support of the clubhouse.
Andrew Miller: There’s an 85 percent shot he starts in Pawtucket. A few good innings in spring do not change the fact that he has struggled mightily for a few years and needs to get himself fixed. That takes time.
Alfredo Aceves: If the Sox were to part ways with Wakefield, Aceves would be a perfect fit as a spot starter, long reliever, jack-of-all-trades type. But he might be best served to work as a starter in AAA until a need arises.
Rich Hill: He’s tinkering with his mechanics and how to throw certain pitches. The transition from starter to bullpen is ongoing for him and some more time in the minors may be needed.
Felix Doubront: A poorly timed sore elbow ended his shot at starting the season in the majors. He will work as a starter in Triple A with an eye on being called up.
Others: Randy Williams, Michael Bowden and Matt Fox remain in camp but are Triple A bound unless something significantly changes. Williams has good stuff and could be a factor at some point.
The important thing to remember is how the bullpen looks on April 1 means little. It’s what the bullpen looks like on August 1 that matters. For most teams, even contenders, building a bullpen is a fluid process.
Come August 1, it would be no surprise if Miller, Doubront and Aceves were in prominent roles. The key thing for now is to stockpile options and let the process play out.