In just two days, rosters around the league will expand from 25 to a maximum of 40 players, as anyone on the 40-man roster will become eligible for inclusion on the MLB roster. The Red Sox, who have by no means mathematically locked up a playoff spot, but look to be well on their way to one, can use September as an opportunity to give their regulars a few more days off than normal, as well as try out some prospects and younger players in the hopes one of them will be worth having around on the playoff roster.
While none of the players up from September 1 onward would be eligible for the playoff roster normally -- they need to be up prior to September 1 for that -- the Red Sox still have reliever Bobby Jenks on the 15-day DL due to back tightness. While he is starting a rehab assignment, should he have yet another setback in what has been a season full of them, he could be placed on the 60-day DL, opening up eligibility for one of the September call-ups on the playoff roster, as long as that player is a pitcher. More concisely, if Jenks never makes it back to Boston in 2011, then one of the minor league pitchers currently on the 40-man could take his place in the bullpen in October.
Who can we expect to see come to Boston in September? Pawtucket is full of players on the 40-man: Scott Atchison, Felix Doubront, Junichi Tazawa, Kyle Weiland, Luis Exposito, Ryan Lavarnway, Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias, and Drew Sutton are all eligible to come up in September, as is Ryan Kalish, though his health makes his coming up more of a question.
Atchison you know: he's a piece Boston calls up when they need a potential long man besides Alfredo Aceves. Doubront has switched to a bullpen role in Pawtucket in order to prepare him for that spot in the majors. While Boston would prefer he remains a starter long-term, between the injuries he has dealt with this year and his being a lefty, it was basically inevitable his season would end in this fashion. Besides some problems with homers -- Doubront is giving up 1.3 per nine -- he has been very good for Pawtucket, with a K/BB of 2.5 and eight strikeouts per nine.
Weiland, along with Doubront, has potential to become Jenks's replacement should the Sox need one. He's had a fine season in Pawtucket, and while his major league trial wasn't nearly as successful, he showed potential. We've discussed how he may be a better fit for relief in this space before.
The most intriguing of the three may be Tazawa, though. The 25-year-old Japanese right-hander struggled in the lower levels this year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, but he's come around and pitched very well in both Double- and Triple-A as of late. He struck out 10.6 batters per nine for Portland, good for a 3.9 K/BB ratio, and has been even better in his 11-1/3 innings for the PawSox. Tazawa has struck out 15 hitters in those frames, and against just one walk. He isn't likely to have that much success in Boston out of the pen, but this recent bout of great control is a positive compared to where he was just a few months ago. Control and command are the last things to come back to a pitcher post-TJ, so Tazawa's struggles were not totally surprising. While we were left wondering if he would recover in time to help Boston out back when he had problems getting minor leaguers out, the last 30 innings or so have shown that yes, Tazawa just may be able to do something productive before his contract runs out.
Besides pitchers, Lavarnway is the only one who might make an impact out of this group. Iglesias is intriguing as a defensive replacement for Scutaro, Lowrie, and Aviles at shortstop, but his bat isn't ready to handle the upper minors yet, never mind the majors, so expecting him to contribute in at-bats is asking a lot. Sutton likely won't see a ton of time with Aviles around, especially if Iglesias is up, too. Exposito may see a start or two in order to give the backstops some rest, but he doesn't have the bat of his fellow Pawtucket catcher, either.
It's tempting to have Lavarnway up before September 1 in order to give him eligiblity for the postseason. That would require sending a player -- likely Michael Bowden -- down prior to September 1, since Lavarnway, as a non-pitcher, can't take Jenks's spot if necessary. There's a very real chance Lavarnway would be Boston's best bat off of the bench in October; more at-bats in September filling in for Ortiz at DH or possibly even behind the plate would help us know how good those odds are.
Assuming Boston's playoff chances don't vanish, and Jenks does end up having another setback, and the Red Sox need to replace him with a pitcher, who would you want it to be? Tazawa? Doubront? Weiland? Or someone else?