As lockout begins, a much too early Sox roster projection

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Dec. 2—The past few weeks have brought a flurry of activity, and the Red Sox were busy right up until midnight on Wednesday. Now with the expiration of MLB's collective bargaining agreement and the likelihood of a lengthy lockout, all rosters should remain frozen for the time being.

So with that being the case, let's catch our breath and take a look at where things stand with the Red Sox heading into 2022. How might the 26-man roster look on opening day? What additions could the team make once business resumes?

Here is a way too early roster projection, which lays out one possible scenario of how the Red Sox might look next season. New additions are listed in italics, and before you send any angry emails about why a particular player is a bad/unrealistic idea, I'm trying to focus more on how the Red Sox might fill certain needs rather than on specific names.

Starting Rotation: Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, Rich Hill, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck

The fifth spot will be an interesting storyline come spring training, with Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock and recently acquired Michael Wacha all likely to compete for the final rotation job. No matter who ends up winning — I'm predicting Houck — the Red Sox should be in good shape at the back of the rotation, especially once newly signed starter James Paxton returns from Tommy John surgery.

The bigger issue is who replaces Eduardo Rodriguez. Up until late Wednesday night my guess was the Sox would explore the trade market, with Oakland Athletics starter Sean Manaea looking like an ideal option. Then news broke that the Red Sox were signing Rich Hill to a one-year deal, and believe it or not the 41-year-old lefty's recent numbers are actually remarkably similar to Rodriguez's. Between Hill, Wacha, Houck, Whitlock and eventually Paxton, the Red Sox should have plenty of rotation options even if none are particularly eyebrow raising.

Bullpen: Garrett Whitlock, Matt Barnes, Collin McHugh, Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Darwinzon Hernandez, Michael Wacha

If Whitlock slots in as Boston's full-time closer and Matt Barnes gets back to something resembling his all-star form, Boston's bullpen will be in fairly good shape. The team's biggest need is another multi-inning weapon like Whitlock, Houck and Garrett Richards were at times last year. Arguably the best available option for that sort of job is Tampa Bay's Collin McHugh.

McHugh was technically with the Red Sox in 2020 but opted out of the season and never threw a pitch with the team. A reunion would make a lot of sense, particularly after he posted a 1.55 ERA in 64 innings last year.

Catchers: Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki

By picking up Vazquez's $7 million club option and agreeing to a one-year deal with Plawecki to avoid arbitration, the Red Sox should have their catching situation squared away for 2022. It will be worth keeping an eye on prospects Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez, both of whom could work their way into the big league picture at some point down the road.

Infielders: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Kris Bryant, Bobby Dalbec, Christian Arroyo, Mitch Moreland

If the Red Sox are going to make a big splash, this is the place to do it. Upgrading second base would be the quickest and easiest way to improve the lineup, and there are still plenty of premium options available on the open market.

The dream scenario would be Carlos Correa, who would presumably play shortstop while Xander Bogaerts bumps to second and Christian Arroyo comes off the bench, but that seems a bit too farfetched even if it is plausible. So instead, what if the Red Sox made an equally bold move for Kris Bryant? He can play almost any position — second base certainly wouldn't be a problem — plus he's a former MVP with a track record of postseason success in a big market. He would be a great fit, and if Boston winds up aiming for a different but similarly impactful player, that would work just as well.

As for first base, Bobby Dalbec demonstrated enough progress to warrant another good look, but the Red Sox could use a lefty bat off the bench who could also serve as a late-inning defensive replacement. Top prospect Triston Casas should eventually fill that role, but with him likely to start the season in Triple-A, why not a reunion with old friend Mitch Moreland to keep the seat warm in the meantime?

Outfielders: Alex Verdugo, Kiké Hernández, Kyle Schwarber, J.D. Martinez, Jackie Bradley Jr.

Originally this projection had the Red Sox sticking with the status quo, while noting the team could do something unexpected to shake things up. Like, say, trading Hunter Renfroe for big league talent or prospects. Well, what do you know, just before midnight that's exactly what the Red Sox did! Welcome back old friend Jackie Bradley Jr., who was reacquired along with prospects Alex Binelas and David Hamilton in exchange for Renfroe.

With Bradley back in the fold the Red Sox have a new world of possibilities. They could go with a Verdugo-Bradley-Hernández alignment, or play Hernández at second and make a big signing at right field. Kyle Schwarber? Japanese superstar Seiya Suzuki? Even Bryant could work in this scenario given all the outfield he played last year.

Given how terrible a year at the plate Bradley just had, it feels like another big move could be coming that would allow him to serve as a fourth outfielder and late-inning defensive replacement. Schwarber would be the natural choice but at this point it feels like anything could be on the table.

2022 Red Sox Projection 1.0

Lineup

CF Kiké Hernández

LF Kyle Schwarber

3B Rafael Devers

SS Xander Bogaerts

2B Kris Bryant

DH J.D. Martinez

RF Alex Verdugo

1B Bobby Dalbec

C Christian Vazquez

Starting Rotation

Nathan Eovaldi

Chris Sale

Rich Hill

Nick Pivetta

Tanner Houck

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