You might be asking, “who cares?” You know this article’s about the bench, and you don’t really care about the bench. You care about David Ortiz’s new truck, Manny Ramirez flouting the rules, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s laugh and the time he puts his pinkie in his glove, J.D. Drew’s arrival and Coco Crisp’s hair. Ah, but…
The bench of the Red Sox will be integral to the success of the team this season. I am a strong proponent of the fact that a strong bench is needed to fill in for tired or injured starters. Bench players cannot, nor should we settle for, be .150/.200/.250 hitters. Depth is vitally important to a team’s success, and a deep bench goes a long way in winning games over the course of the season.
The Red Sox’s bench features a good blend of power, speed, defense and patience. The projected bench for the Red Sox is:

  1. 1B/3B/LF/RF Eric Hinske
  2. 2B/SS/3B Alex Cora
  3. LF/CF/RF/DH (I wish 1B too) Wily Mo Pena
  4. C Doug Mirabelli
  5. and possibly someone else if the Red Sox opt to carry 11 pitchers (bumping Kyle Snyder/Craig Hansen, probably). If so, the favorite would probably be OF David Murphy, because there are no good middle infield candidates other than Lugo, Pedroia or Cora. The Pawtucket middle infielders are Joe McEwing (past his usefulness as a major leaguer, but probably the first option up), Chad Spann (a young, quietly rising prospect) and Eddie Rogers, who you probably haven’t heard of, and for good reason.

These four players certainly aren’t the focus of the camp, but they will go a long way in determining the success of the Red Sox’s season.
Covering each person:
Eric Hinske can fill in at a multitude of positions, but boy, has the former Rookie of the Year fallen far, as he is now a bench player, albeit on a very good team – he would start on a bad team. With a career line of .260/337/.437 in 2,339 AB, he hit .288/.352/.425 for the Red Sox after coming over in a trade in 80 AB. Hinske doesn’t have as much impact on the lineup as Pena does, but you could do far, far worse than slotting Hinske in the lineup to give Youkilis or Lowell a day off. He’s a solid player with pop and fits the profile any true championship contender should have on the bench: someone who would be a starter on a bad team.
Alex Cora is known more for his defense, his clubhouse camaderie, and his clearcut possibility of becoming a manager in the future. Cora’s career line is .244/.310/.344 and hit .238/.312/.298 for the Red Sox this past year. All I care about for Cora, who fits the mold of the backup defensive middle infielder to a tee, is the fact that he continue getting on base at the clip he did in 2006. Cora will provide fine depth and will protect against Dustin Pedroia flopping on his face, which is doubtful to happen because Pedroia looks great this year and had an unlucky BABIP last year.
Wily Mo Pena is the young slugger who just reached a deal before heading to arbitration. A nice debut season for Boston (.301/.349/.489 in 276 AB) showed off his true potential, but he will enter 2007 again a backup player, having been deserving of full-time status since 2004. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for 2008 either, as Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp (or Ichiro Suzuki or Jacoby Ellsbury) and J.D. Drew will be esconced in the outfield, and Ortiz at DH. That’s why I’m in favor of teaching Pena first base, so Youkilis can move across the diamond for 2008 after Mike Lowell departs, but so far the Red Sox have been resistant to the move, meaning he’s probably on the trading block. We need to enjoy his production while we can, as Pena gives us a very dangerous option off the bench to fill in for injured or tired starters or as a pinch-hitter. Pena is essentially the opposite of what a bench player generally is to the opposing pitcher: a day off.
Doug Mirabelli had an off-year last year and returned to Boston after a quick stay in San Diego in a trade that will live in infamy. When you eliminate the name Mirabelli from the swaps and make it Mark Loretta for Josh Bard and Cla Meredith, that’s an easier pill to swallow. But that’s just me trying to take the ice pick out of my brain that I embedded on that day the trade was made. Mirabelli finished with a putrid .535 OPS, and has a .732 for his career. Once considered the best backup catcher in the game and acquired from the Rangers in 2001, Mirabelli may be nearing the end at age 37. George Kottaras is a fantastic option, but it would be foolish to rush him to the majors, and Tim Wakefield sounds delighted to have Mirabelli. Here’s hoping that Mirabelli can pop a few balls over the Monster like old, and he lives up to the ego he has in the image to the right, which I can’t remember how I found.
The front-runner for the final bench spot if we carry 11 pitchers (doubtful, with all these bullpen questions) is David Murphy. He started off last year in Portland, hitting .273/.315/.436. Murphy got off to a hot start that started Boston abuzz, and settled in at .267/.355/.447 in 318 AB, far better than what he did in Portland. Called up to the majors in September, Murphy hit .227/.346/.409 and recently packed on 10-15 pounds of muscle this off season and may yet become a legitimate player, and not a gag trivia answer to who Theo Epstein’s first first-round pick was as GM.
Here are the projected bench players for the rest of the AL East teams, plus their 2006 stats:
Baltimore: C Paul Bako (.209/.261/.229 [WOW!!!]), MIF Chris Gomez (.341/.387/.439 [Career .260/.326/.360]), 1B/LF Jay Gibbons (.277/.341/.458), OF Jay Payton (.296/.325/.418). OPINION: Weak infield, outfield is very good.
New York: C Wil Nieves (.000/.000/.000 [Career: .159/.198/.220]), MIF Miguel Cairo (.239/.280/.320), 1B Josh Phelps (Career: .268/.336/.473), OF Melky Cabrera (.280/.360/.391) OPINION: I’m ready to get bashed by the Yankee trolls, but Baltimore has a better bench. Bako is a respected veteran catcher while Nieves hasnt even reached 100 major league AB, Gomez and Cairo cancel each other out, and Gibbons and Payton are vastly superior to Phelps, who didn’t see time in the majors in 2006 and Cabrera, who doesn’t have much power. Not that Cabrera isn’t good, but … Baltimore’s bench is better. Sorry.
Tampa Bay: C Josh Paul (.260/.327/.342), UTIL B.J. Upton (.246/.302/.291), UTIL Ty Wigginton (.275/.330/.498), LF Jonny Gomes (.216/.325/.431), OF Elijah Dukes (.293/.401/.488 in AAA – he’s the favorite to win a bench spot over 1B Greg Norton). OPINION: Wow. This bench right now is not very good, at least by 2006 numbers, but it has tremendous potential and will probably end up being the best bench in the East … if, and only if, the hitters turn out as expected. Paul is a solid backup catcher, and Upton and Dukes are going to flat out mash. Wigginton has really found a niche, and Gomes has a very good 2005 and reports are that he’s poised to repeat his .906 OPS of that year.
Toronto: C Jason Phillips (.250/.275/.375), MIF John McDonald (.223/.271/.308), MIF Aaron Hill (.291/.349/.386), OF Reed Johnson (.319/.380/.479). OPINION: Now, this is better than Baltimore and New York, and eerily similar to Boston’s, but I’d take every single one of Boston’s players as a whole over Toronto, because not only are the statistics very similar, Boston has far more versatility.
Boston has the best bench in the AL East as of right now.
As all the attention focuses on the superstars, keep in mind that the people diligently working out in the batting cages and going through the stretches with no photographers making them blind or reporters jamming tape recorders in front of their mouths will have an impact in Boston before all is said and done.
Oh yeah, the poll results? Blind optimism abound!

How will Josh Beckett do in 2007?
* He finally lives up to the name Ace 1B with a low 4/high 3s ERA.
43% of all votes
* He improves significantly but is not by any means an ace.
48% of all votes
* He repeats 2006 because that’s what he is in the AL.
4% of all votes
* He’s even worse than 2006!
4% of all votes

Vote in the new poll, and take your time thinking about it. It’s one which I’m VERY interested in and plan on talking about at length later on.