On Tuesday, November 20, the Red Sox must set their 40-man roster. It's not that they can't mess with their 40-man further after that point, locked into one roster all off-season long, but this date has relevance because it's the one that designates who is protected from the Rule 5 draft. As the Red Sox have a few players who will be eligible for the annual December poaching of young talent, they will need to clear room if they plan to protect them.
Currently, the Red Sox 40-man has 39 players on it. No one is on the 60-day disabled list anymore, and with the free agency period in action, plenty of spots had already been cleared out to get Boston from well over 40 to within the league's legal limits. If they plan to sign any free agents, or make a trade where prospects are sent out for big-league players, or protect anyone from the Rule 5, though, then there's only the one spot left to them. That means players need to be designated for assignment, traded, or cut outright in order to finish up the roster.
The only one of those items of major consequence right now is the last one, the Rule 5 protection. And Boston has plenty of players that are eligible to be protected, as 46 minor-league players are Rule 5-eligible for the first time this December. That doesn't mean all of those players merit protection -- and that's the big thing -- but enough do that some roster jumbling is likely in order in the next five days.
Allen Webster is the lone definite add for the 40-man. He was the top prospect brought back to Boston in the Nick Punto trade, and would absolutely be swiped from the Red Sox were he left off of the 40. With that in mind, Webster is the 40th man, and the addition of anyone else will require subtraction elsewhere.
Alex Wilson and Josh Fields are both likely to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. Both arms fit into Boston's current policy of fitting as many inexpensive, high-upside arms as they can in the system, and could easily fit onto a major-league roster elsewhere in 2013. It's not a guaranteed thing that the Red Sox keep either, as they could choose from some of the many other options already on the 40, and send Wilson and/or Fields away in a trade in order to get something back for them.
Dan Butler might have a place in the organization, but it depends on if Jarrod Saltalamacchia is traded away in the next few days. Right now, Boston has three catchers already on the 40-man, so Butler as an insurance policy isn't significant unless that number dips to two. The situation is a little different for Christian Vazquez, who is more of a prospect and well-liked by some, most-notably Baseball America. It's easy to see the Sox putting him on the 40-man to keep someone like the Astros, who are lacking in big-league talent, from stashing him on their roster. Even with Vazquez, though, it's no sure thing any team would be willing to forfeit a year of his development in order to hide him on the major-league roster. He needs the playing time, especially as a backstop. Jeremy Hazelbaker is in the same boat (minus the catching part), but he finished his season at Pawtucket, so it's more believable someone would bite the lost development-time bullet on him just in case he turns into something useful. The Rule 5 is basically a lottery, after all.
Regardless of who it is the Red Sox protect, the question is more about who will be cut loose. Danny Valencia is a good bet to be designated, as he wasn't very productive once again regardless of where he played, and the Red Sox have other candidates to fill in at third base if necessary. David Carpenter, acquired from the Blue Jays in the John Farrell swap, was likely to be released from Toronto's 40-man before they needed to send someone Boston's way in that deal. Given Boston's depth in relief, it's hard to see this Carpenter sticking.
Those are the only two obvious candidates to be designated, though, at least at this junction. If Boston would rather hold on to them longer, waiting for other teams to fill out their own 40-man rosters in order to give the Sox a better chance of sneaking these players through waivers, then a trade is going to need to be made. The most-likely trade candidates are Saltalamacchia, Alfredo Aceves, and Ryan Sweeney. Boston's bullpen has enough pieces in it that they can give up on Aceves, and Sweeney, while potentially useful thanks to his glove and his hitting against right-handers, is superfluous for a team that needs to figure out what Ryan Kalish is. Salty, of course, has become less necessary with the David Ross acquisition, and Ryan Lavarnway's presence. Boston has also been attempting to move him for much of the off-season.
There are others who could be moved or cut, many of them relievers, but the Red Sox would most likely prefer to leave that winnowing until later on, when they are more sure of what it is their 2013 roster is going to look like. For now, it's about finding a few spaces in order to add the pieces they don't want to get away. With just five days to go until that deadline, expect to see some movement very soon.