Sometimes there is more going on in a trade or the release of a player than their talent and potential. Roster considerations are an oft-underrated portion of the process, and sometimes, if development takes too long, these considerations force action. Such a move occurred recently, when Joel Hanrahan was brought in to Boston.
Stolmy Pimentel, despite something of a rebound campaign in 2012, had to be dealt from the Red Sox at some point before the 2013 season ended. Pimentel had been added to the 40-man roster before the 2011 season, and this meant that, by keeping him in the minors the following two seasons, he had burned two of his three options. Heading into 2013, he was down to his final option. As he had not yet solved the mystery of Double-A, this was problematic: he would need to be major-league ready by the time 2014 began in order to continue to justify his 40-man roster spot, and given how things have gone with his first foray into the upper minors, that was no sure thing.
Pimentel might still have upside, but the only way to even have a chance of getting him to the majors with the speed required by his lack of options was to move him to relief, the one place Boston is in no need of assistance from, not in 2013, and likely not in 2014, either. Instead, Pimentel became part of a deal, moving to an organization, the Pirates, who could use Pimentel, and very well might bump him to the majors in 2014 since they aren't as loaded in that area as the Sox.
While this helps solve a problem for Boston's roster, there are others like Pimentel in the system who are down to their final option year. And, given that next November will see the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Bryce Brentz, Garin Cecchini, Chris Hernandez, Brandon Workman, and others in need of 40-man roster spots in order to avoid selection in the Rule 5 draft, those players with one option remaining are going to need to justify their existence before this upcoming year is out.
Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias, and Chris Carpenter are the three players on Boston's 40-man who are down to their last option. Each of these players is likely to begin the 2013 season one step away from the majors at Triple-A Pawtucket -- this is what separates them from Pimentel -- in order to get the playing time necessary to determine their future with the Red Sox.
Carpenter is a reliever, making his situation the most tenuous of the bunch. He's thrown just 15 innings in the majors, but they have been awful, with 17 walks against 10 strikeouts. He's been better than that in the high minors at times, but at this point, Carpenter is relying on his high-heat fastball to keep him around. He'll be 27 years old in 2013, and down to his final option, so it's imperative he pitches well to stick on the 40. If he doesn't, there's a chance the Red Sox can designate him for assignment and retain him off of the 40, but if he pitches so poorly that he clears waivers, that's not very exciting, even if it beats losing him.
Of more importance are Kalish and Iglesias. Kalish hasn't been healthy for two years now, first dealing with shoulder and neck injuries, and then slowly recovering from the surgeries performed to correct those issues during last season. It's easy to forget just how talented Kalish was prior to the dual surgeries, but he was one of Boston's top prospects, with a glove that allowed him to play center and a bat that, if it continued to develop at the pace 2010 was setting, might even allow for play in a corner should he bulk up and lose some range.
In 2010, Kalish batted .293/.404/.527 at Double-A Portland, and then .294/.356/.476 at Triple-A Pawtucket before the 22-year-old was called up to the majors as part of the all-hands-on-deck outfield emergency in Boston. The extra development time he needed at Pawtucket from 2010 onward has never surfaced, as, over parts of three years, he's played all of 86 games at the level, with 37 of them coming in that 2010 season.
Should he be healthy -- and that's an if as large as the potential Kalish still holds -- Kalish will very likely play well at Pawtucket. Injuries have held him back, and they've been a constant, so it's no guarantee he'll get the chance. If he can't put together a full season, then Boston isn't likely to cut him from the 40, but he could become a trade piece, or have sealed his fate as a bench outfielder rather than as a starter.
If he can stay healthy, and does resume his development, though, then in 2014, Kalish could very well end up in the outfield in Boston, likely in left. There are a lot of other pieces in play here -- how Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava play in 2013, for instance -- but the chance for a 2014 spot opens up for Kalish only if he's able to take advantage of what is likely his last chance to play and hit consistently in the minors.
As for Iglesias, his development has been even more odd, given that his glove is so far ahead of his bat that it has dragged him to Pawtucket by the time his second full season in the minors had begun. He's still just 23, and he'll be starting his third full campaign at Pawtucket now that Stephen Drew is set to play shortstop in the majors. He is unlikely to be a complete product by the time 2013 ends, but he need to make progress at the plate in his fourth and final option year.
It's hard to see in the numbers, but Iglesias has made some progress offensively. In 2011, he was outclassed by opposing pitchers all season long, with incremental increases in his walk rate the lone positive. In 2012, though, Iglesias went through stretches at the plate where he actually performed like someone who knew what they were doing at the plate. In May, he hit .341/.364/.427 in 82 at-bats, and in August, .329/.402/.397 in 73. These are bright spots among an overall dull campaign, but if he can start to make contact more consistently, and mix in a little more offense overall, the idea of his posting a 650 OPS or so in the majors becomes much more believable. And with his glove, that might be all he needs to do. (Before you dismiss that as too little, recall that Mike Aviles posted a 663 OPS in 2012, and his glove is nowhere near that of Iglesias.)
If Iglesias is to take over the shortstop position for Boston in 2014, he's going to need to take additional steps forward. There won't be opportunities for him in the minors after this year, so either he's going to play well enough to merit the job, or Boston might trade him to someone else who isn't attempting to compete in the present. The Red Sox could play Iglesias in 2014 even if he's not ready, but at that point, it's not a given -- they might just go out looking for another stopgap like Drew, or even push Xander Bogaerts to the majors ahead of schedule to avoid it.
Like with Kalish, this is the last and best chance for Iglesias to prove that he deserves a full-time roster spot in 2014. If they can't produce, with the influx of younger talent that requires a 40-man spot on the way, they might find themselves in a different organization before this time next year.