Last year, the focus was on Marco Scutaro's battle with Jed Lowrie at shortstop. Then injuries to both of them and Kevin Youkilis, plus the promotion of Jose Iglesias and the acquisition of Mike Aviles, left the whole to-do rather moot. That memory might serve to temper fans' expectations of this year's competitions at shortstop and elsewhere.
"We know that teams evolve," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told reporters Wednesday night before NESN's Red Sox Town Hall event in Worcester, Mass. "We know that our team has evolved. That doesn't mean you don't want to go into Spring Training with every position perfect and the team filled out, because optimally you would. That's never the case."
"Sometimes you make the wrong decision," Sox manager Bobby Valentine said before the same event. "It's never the end of the world, the wrong decision in April."
Valentine's words might speak more to the team's perspective than players on the bubble. At least for Aviles and Nick Punto, there appears to be little chance either will be left off the Sox's roster. Of the three other areas Boston needs to decide in spring -- outfield, the back of the rotation and the bullpen -- it's the latter two where the most pink slips might be distributed and the most egos bruised.
Some of the pitchers the Red Sox have brought in -- such as Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva and Vicente Padilla -- could be asked to move to the bullpen. John Maine, a former starter, is already coming to camp with the understanding he will make that switch.
The contracts of Cook, Silva and Jesse Carlson (who is expected to compete strictly for a bullpen role) contain out clauses where the Sox have to provide their release if certain circumstances are met -- i.e. not being on the active roster by a particular date. Carlson has chances to leave for a team in Asia, and he can ask for his release if he's not on the 40-man roster by April 1. Cook can be granted his release on May 1 or June 1 if he's not on the 25-man roster.
Silva's contract was structured with incentives rewarding both relief and starting milestones, and he can leave April 15 if he's not on Boston's active roster.
"No matter what, at the end of the spring, you have to deal with disappointed people," Cherington said. "Not everyone is in the role they want to be in. Not everyone is on the team when they think they should be on the team. ... In this case, you just have to have those conversations, be honest with what you're seeing."
From the team perspective, the bottom line is the ability to add will ideally always be there -- something potentially helped by the trade of Scutaro. Asked pointedly by a fan during the Town Hall event about the deal with Colorado, Cherington said it was made because he believes the team can receive similar production from Scutaro's replacement, and to "remain flexible, so that if we need to add pieces during the season, we can do that."
Even if the money the Scutaro trade freed up isn't spent immediately on pitching -- some of it has already gone to outfielder Cody Ross' one-year, $3 million deal -- it could be spent later on pitching, or wherever the need may be.
As for who does end up at shortstop this season, Valentine on Wednesday clarified a statement from two nights earlier in which he seemed wholly opposed to platoons. Valentine is not adverse to players sharing time, he said most recently, but he does dislike the concept of a traditional platoon where players are pigeon-holed into roles.
"I don't like to limit my players and say, 'Hey, he's going to be just hitting against right-handers,' even though sometimes that's the way it works out for left-handers," said Valentine.