With the Red Sox eight games back in the wild card race, behind more teams than they are in front of, it's time to start thinking about 2013. One of the first steps in preparing for next year comes in September, when rosters expand and the Red Sox can start to give innings and plate appearances to prospects and minor-league players that normally wouldn't get the chance to show what they can do.
Just because a player is on the 40-man roster, and therefore eligible for the majors in September, does not mean they will be called up. There are plenty of future Red Sox who might get the call, though; we'll discuss all of the above today, position-by-position.
Daniel Bard: Bard has been flat-out awful in Triple-A Pawtucket after failing to convert to starting in the majors. While it's possible Bard's problems with command began back at the end of 2011 rather than due to the attempted conversion, that's small comfort when thinking about a future that's been colored ugly by his present. General manager Ben Cherington is already on the record saying that the Sox would like Bard back in the majors, in that environment, in September, if not before. With Boston's season less about now than later, it makes sense: maybe new pitching coach Randy Niemann can help Bard solve what ails him, now that the games in the majors don't carry the same weight they did back in June when Bard was demoted.
Pedro Beato: Beato was acquired from the Mets in the Kelly Shoppach trade. He throws in the low-to-mid-90s, and was once a legitimate prospect, but has not pitched well in his brief time in the majors. He's a project with options left, so the Red Sox might not be in a hurry to give him too many innings this September. He'll likely get the call anyway, though, since they can.
Drake Britton: Rewarding Britton for a major turnaround season with a finish at the majors would be a good idea, but he's already thrown 120 innings, 23 more than he's ever thrown before. This workload for the 23-year-old might make the Red Sox loathe to bring him up and use him, but if they feel he can benefit from some time in a major-league clubhouse, then he might end up in Boston whether he's used or not.
Chris Carpenter: Carpenter was acquired as part of the compensation for losing Theo Epstein to the Cubs, and he's been excellent since returning from elbow surgery. The 26-year-old has struck out 15 batters in 14 innings with Pawtucket, and while he's walked 4.5 per nine in that stretch, he's also shown himself and his high-90s heat to be difficult to hit. Not just with Pawtucket, either: for his career, Carpenter has allowed just 8.1 hits per nine. Whether that continues or not is something Boston would like to see, as Carpenter could be a part of the 2013 bullpen.
Stolmy Pimentel: Unlike Britton, who recovered at High-A Salem and earned a promotion to Double-A Portland by doing so, Pimentel remains where he was in 2011: struggling. Even though he has the low workload (97 innings) to make a big-league call-up workable, he also has the kind of numbers that suggest it's not worth the effort or the roster space right now.
Zach Stewart: Boston has no need for extra starters at present, not with Felix Doubront on his way back from the disabled list, Daisuke Matsuzaka ready to return from Pawtucket, and Aaron Cook possibly being squeezed out of an already packed rotation. Boston might want to extend Stewart's season once Pawtucket's is over, though, as the return from the Kevin Youkilis trade is already on the 40, and could very well be 2013 starting depth that sits in the minors until needed.
Jose Iglesias: Pedro Ciriaco has been spending time at third base, and Mike Aviles is at short, but the Red Sox might want to be give Jose Iglesias playing time so they can get an extended look at him against major-league pitching, rather than just another spring training tryout in order to evaluate him for 2013. His glove is ready for the majors, but is his bat? It's going to be hard to know until he gets to see major-league pitching.
Danny Valencia: Valencia is already on the 40-man, and has already been to the majors, so he might get the call once Pawtucket's season is over if for no other reason than it's an easy move to make for Boston. With the aforementioned trio of infielders around, though, it's going to be tough for Valencia to get much playing time, as he's lower on the list of 2013 curiosities than they are.
Ryan Kalish: Kalish has been up and down in Pawtucket, and awful in the majors, but he's still in Boston's plans for 2013 at the moment. With Boston needing to decide on keeping or trading Jacoby Ellsbury this winter, and with right field opened up unless Cody Ross is re-signed (or someone else acquired), giving Kalish as many at-bats as possible during the year makes a lot of sense.
Che-Hsuan Lin: Lin will likely get time late in games as a defensive replacement, but he might pick up a few starts along the way, too. He's a definite call-up in this group, especially with Carl Crawford out for the rest of the season.
Non-40-Man Roster Choices
Boston doesn't need to limit themselves to just who is on the 40-man roster as of today. Will Middlebrooks and Carl Crawford could be moved to the 60-day disabled list in order to clear up another pair of roster spots, and if Aaron Cook is dealt or released, that would open up yet another. There aren't very man options that the Red Sox would likely add to the 40-man roster, but they do exist.
Alex Wilson needs to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He has been great in his first season in relief for the PawSox, and likely has a future as a legitimate bullpen option in the majors as soon as the Red Sox want him to work there. Adding him a couple of months early, when he is going to be on the 40-man anyway, isn't a terrible way to extend his season and get him to debut in the majors.
Christian Vazquez is in the same boat, in that he needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter. Vazquez was just promoted to Portland, but as the only catcher in front of him is non-prospect Dan Butler, it might end up being Vazquez who is added to the 40-man and called to Boston to be the club's third catcher in September.
Steven Wright was the return from the Lars Anderson trade, and he is a minor-league free agent this winter, so the Red Sox might want to add him to the 40-man and give him an opportunity to pitch in the majors before deciding if they want to keep him around or not. That being said, they could always re-sign him anyway, if they like what they've seen to this point.
Chris Hernandez and Juan Carlos Linares might make sense as call-ups, as both could be part of the 2013 roster at some point, but each player is currently off of the 40-man roster, and won't be Rule 5 eligible until after next year, anyway. Given how crowded Boston's 40-man is, and the decisions that already need to be made with it for players with less flexible timetables attached, these two are unlikely to see the majors in 2012.
Lastly, should one of Junichi Tazawa or Clayton Mortensen be optioned to Pawtucket in order to make room for Felix Doubront's or Daisuke Matsuzaka's returns from the disabled list, they will both end up back in Boston once rosters expand.