Decision time is coming.
With the Red Sox' opener residing eight days from Wednesday, it's crunch-time for a few select candidates to make the first 25-man roster. In a nutshell, the team needs to figure out who is going to be their utility infielder and final reliever (or two). Here is the latest:
Holt has a few things going for him. First, he is a proven offensive player in the big leagues, a reality that has been on display during his Grapefruit League performances (hitting .308 with an .822 OPS heading into Wednesday). He can also play a solid outfield, which might come into play with J.D. Martinez and Blake Swihart lining up as the current backups to the starting trio.
But Holt does have options, where Deven Marrero does not. He is also going to eat up more than $2 million on what has become a delicate Red Sox payroll if he makes the team. And if the Red Sox truly feel Rafael Devers and/or Eduardo Nunez are going to need defensive replacements late in games, or if a shortstop is needed, Holt is a downgrade from Marrero.
"I was part of that my whole career," the Red Sox manager told reporters Wednesday morning when talking about the roster uncertainty heading into a season. "In LA I was a lock. Here with the Red Sox I was a lock. Then after that -- you just play. You really don’t think about it. If you’re confident enough you’ll be fine. You can’t let that control the way you act in the clubhouse or who you are as a player. He’s been great. He played good defense yesterday at shortstop. He’s putting good at-bats. He’s a good baserunner. And the situation they’re in, they just have to play. Control what you can control and we’ll see what happens at the end of the week."
The Marrero decision would be a lot easier for the Red Sox if the infielder just showed a bit if an uptick offensively. And while he was optimistic about his new stance (more upright) coming into camp, the results just haven't been there, striking out a team-high 17 times in 43 Grapefruit League at-bats, hitting .209 heading into Wednesday.
But the Red Sox might still prioritize keeping Marrero in the organization (having to put him through waivers if he doesn't make the roster), or simply that he can be a valuable go-to guy when it comes to covering up infield defense insecurities.
"With Deven, I have been consistent with him, ‘Be aggressive at the plate. You have to do more, more to be a good offensive player. Bunt. Steal bases. All that.’ He did it the other day," Cora told reporters. "He’s putting together better at-bats."
Cora continues to insist the Red Sox aren't necessarily going to carry a lefty reliever. His priority is getting guys in his bullpen who he thinks can get both sides of the plate out.
"We still, we're going to take the guys who get outs. Lefties, righties, we're not going to tie ourselves up just because it's a tradition to carry one," he told reporters. "The only thing is that you play the National League game and that's different because of the pinch hitters, the strategy. But if you have lefties that get righties out you're good. If you've got righties that get lefties out, we're fine with it."
Two of the three left-handed candidates -- Robby Scott and Roenis Elias -- have been inconsistent, showing flashes of promise only to fall into some sort of hiccup. It was no accident Cora sent both up to Port Charlotte, Fla. Wednesday to go up against a few key Rays lefty hitters. Southpaw Bobby Poyner has been the most steady of the group, although considering he hasn't pitched above Double-A the thinking might be to introduce him to the majors after getting him some Triple-A seasoning.
With the need to get out both sides of the plate, Heath Hembree might also get in the cross-hairs come cutdown time. Hembree has proven himself to be a legitimate major league reliever, but his struggles against left-handed hitting are well-known. Still, it's hard to see the Red Sox cutting Hembree loose considering he is out of options and has had a very good Grapefruit League season (8.1 IP, 11 Ks, R). Really, of those considered regular relievers from last season, Brandon Workman is the only one of the group to have struggled this spring, giving up eight runs on 13 hits over 8 2/3 innings while living with a high 80's/low 90's fastball.
Another consideration is that Brian Johnson, who looks to be either the Game 4 or 5 starter to begin the season, will most likely be transitioned to the bullpen early in the season once the regular rotation is filled out.
"I barely mention it," Cora told reporters. "I barely talk about their situation. I don’t want to talk about it because if I was in that spot I know what’s going on. I know. Between agents and people surrounding you, they let you know what’s going on. The manager talking about that situation or the GM is added pressure or added something they don’t need."