For some, it's just a stop on the way to the majors. For others, it has been home for years. With a surge of new talent on the way from the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston's AAA-affiliate Pawtucket Red Sox are about to have a major roster shake-up.
When doing Minor Lines on an average night, Pawtucket is the least interesting team to look at. The notable names on offense, up till the promotion of Aaron Bates, were all guys who were likely to be bench players at best in their career. Chris Carter, Dusty Brown, Jeff Bailey, Jonathan Van Every. Talented ball players who often rank amongst the elite at AAA, but can't seem to take the next step and enter the world of the Majors.
Portland, on the other hand, is perhaps the most interesting team. Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick were the obvious standouts coming into the year. Wagner has exploded onto the scene with Aaron Bates. Ryan Kalish was promoted after only a month in Salem to start the year, and has slowly but surely begun to adapt to the tougher competition (.308/.325/.385 in June vs. .133/.212/.233 in May). Even less noticeable guys have performed, as 26-year-old Bubba Bell was promoted to Pawtucket today.
When a player is promoted in the minor leagues, much like in the Majors, there always has to be a counter move. Someone has to be traded, released, sent to the DL, promoted or demoted in order to make space. With such a large wave of players having legitimate shots at Pawtucket, and such a large amount of guys seemingly stuck at AAA, the Red Sox are faced with an obvious problem. Who stays, who goes, and what do we do with those who go?
Dusty Brown and Carlos Maldonado share duties behind the plate. They both share similar skill sets—good defensively, mediocre offensively—but Maldonado is a 30-year-old recent signing while Dusty Brown is a 26-year-old who has spent the last 8 years in the Red Sox farm system. Brown could also possibly carry some value down the line as a backup catcher once Wakefield decides to hang up his glove, so when Mark Wagner inevitably comes knocking, expect Maldonado to get the boot.
If Jorge Jimenez makes the jump sooner rather than later, the Sox will have an interesting choice. The PawSox have 3 players who can all play 2B, SS, and 3B in Gil Velazquez, Angel Chavez, and Travis Denker. Velazquez and Chavez are similar players. Both are older (29 and 27 respectively) with good gloves and mediocre bats. Chavez is better offensively, while Velazquez can also play all outfield positions. Travis Denker is something of a defensive liability, but is only 23 and has a somewhat better bat. The organization will probably elect to keep Denker due to his age and offense, but the choice between Chavez and Velazquez is harder. With the value the Sox put on versatility in the minor leagues, though, Velazquez seems to have an edge up.
The most crowded positions, though, are the 1B/DH and Outfield positions. Pawtucket currently rotates a trio of Jeff Bailey, Aaron Bates, and Paul McAnulty through the corner outfield and 1B positions with Jeff Natale, Freddy Guzman, and Chris Carter (usually at the DH) getting occasional turns. Currently on the DL, Zach Daeges and Jonathan Van Every are also often slotted in. Sometime next year, though, it's not at all unlikely that a majority of these spots will be filled by players currently in Portland. Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick will replace Jeff Bailey and Paul McAnulty in the starting group. Kalish will take over at center field, with Reddick seeing some starts there too.
If the Sox think they can get value for any of the guys currently in the group, they'll likely ship them off. Jeff Bailey, Chris Carter, and Jonathan Van Every are the most familiar names on the list, and the ones most likely to get some small returns. On the other hand, they're also the ones most likely to start the year with the Major League club. Depending on the future of Rocco Baldelli, Nick Green, Julio Lugo, and Mark Kotsay (not to mention David Ortiz), the Red Sox could quickly find themselves in need of a new 4th outfielder or backup middle infielder. Bubba Bell would likely be one of the top candidates for a trade. It seems Bailey and Carter might again be fighting for a job next season, but without a spot at Pawtucket to fall back on. And if the Sox resign any of their current backups or add a few veterans in the offseason, then there could be no room for anyone.
Over the last few years, Pawtucket has stagnated a little. Aside from a few major players moving up (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lowrie), there has been an established core of AAAA position players who every so often get their shot at a cup of coffee. Now, the core seems destined to be broken up. Already, Chip Ambres was traded to the Mets and Sandy Madera was released. For some, the change will mean new opportunities. Whether with the Red Sox or another team, some of them certainly have the ability to at least be major league backups. For others, it will be just another move in a long series of moves in their long minor league careers. And for some more it may just be the end of the road. But for the Red Sox, it will mean a vast well of talent on the very edge of the making the Majors, and a much more interesting PawSox box score.