Projecting the roster for Opening Day

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The season starts on April 1, so technically the Red Sox have 10 days to pick their roster.

But I would bet they know the 25 players who will be in uniform against the Texas Rangers on Opening Day.

As Terry Francona said yesterday, “When we make our decisions, I just think if you’re looking at the last week of spring training, you’re setting yourself up to make mistakes. Even with our bullpen, if somebody goes out and throws a killer inning, that doesn’t mean they’re going to make the team. We just need to set our team up where we think we’re best.”

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Theo Epstein and his staff spend all winter evaluating and projecting what the players will do. Spring training offers too small of a sample size to change those well-considered opinions — unless there is a physical issue.

That said, here’s my shot at projecting the roster:

LINEUP
Jacoby Ellsbury
Dustin Pedroia
Carl Crawford
Adrian Gonzalez
Kevin Youkilis
David Ortiz
J.D. Drew
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Marco Scutaro

BENCH
Jed Lowrie
Mike Cameron
Darnell McDonald
Jason Varitek

ROTATION
Jon Lester
John Lackey
Clay Buchholz
Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka

BULLPEN
Jonathan Papelbon
Daniel Bard
Bobby Jenks
Dan Wheeler
Tim Wakefield
Dennys Reyes
Scott Atchison

Explanation: The only real decisions are at the back end of the bullpen. Wakefield is wedged into a role he doesn’t much like, but the Red Sox need the rotation insurance he provides. In relief, he can eat up innings to save the bullpen for the next day. There is value in that.

Reyes is a better fit as a lefty specialist than Hideki Okajima, which is what this bullpen needs. Okajima also has minor-league options, allowing the Red Sox to see what Reyes can do for a few weeks.

Matt Albers has pitched well enough to make the team. But he had an rough few years in Baltimore and Atchison would seem to provide more versatility. It would not be a surprise if Albers gets traded in the coming week. Then again, it would not be a surprise if Albers makes the team and Atchison gets optioned.

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The final 2-3 spots of every major league bullpen are fluid and will change constantly during the season. If the Sox start with Reyes and Atchison, they will have Okajima, Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront, Junichi Tazawa (eventually) and Rich Hill waiting in Pawtucket. All six of those players have big league experience.

Plus there’s Michael Bowden, Matt Fox and Randy Williams. They also have big-league time. Add it up and Pawtucket will have nine legitimate candidates for relief jobs. That’s excellent depth.

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