The Red Sox big-league roster is essentially set, and there is depth in place both there and in the minors to help carry them through the season. Here's the thing, though: in some cases, "depth" is just another word for "blocked" -- the only way some of those spending their summer in Pawtucket are going to end up in Boston is if a series of injuries opens a space. Even then, their stay will likely be temporary: there are only so many roster spots to go around.
What this most likely means, given the limited number of spots on the 40-man roster and the even smaller major-league one, is that a few players who are currently blocked will end up traded to help fill whatever other holes open in Boston over the course of the long season. We've got some guesses as to who those players are, and how they'll end up playing for someone besides the Red Sox.
Boston's top shortstop prospect is blocked by the player whose footsteps he's had to follow in. Marrero only recently reached Triple-A, collecting all of 202 plate appearances there late last summer, so he's not blocked in the sense that Xander Bogaerts is keeping him from Fenway. However, if Marrero does end up hitting in his second go of things at Pawtucket, in much the same way he did by batting .291/.371/.433 in his return to Double-A, then he'll have nowhere to go unless Bogaerts is on the disabled list.
Marrero is 24, and his quality defense at short means he'll have use in a big-league capacity before his bat is ready to handle the majors on a regular basis. His defense isn't Jose Iglesias-quality, but his bat is superior, and he's been promoted with the same glove-minded aggression in the past. He could be attractive to a team in need of a steady defensive hand at shortstop down the stretch, or to a rebuilding club who can absorb his growing pains at the plate in the majors. Marrero by himself isn't the kind of prospect who is going to bring someone like Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels to the Red Sox, but it's easy to envision him as part of the package that does.
Photo credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Red Sox might not be in a rush to move Marrero, if only because questions about Bogaerts' defense still exist. That's not to suggest the Sox would replace Bogaerts with Marrero, but if Bogaerts' bat breaks out and his glove is terrible, there is always the chance Boston moves Xander elsewhere on the diamond -- say, first base? -- for 2016, leaving shortstop open for the sure-handed Marrero. It might sound like a reach, but remember that Mike Napoli is a free agent in a year, and the Sox are very obviously intrigued by a grounder-heavy pitching staff. Marrero might still have a use in Boston someday, but if the right trade offer comes along, he'll be shipped out.
Will Middlebrooks has been dealt, but there still isn't any space for Garin Cecchini on the Red Sox. Boston signed Pablo Sandoval to handle third base for the next five years, and Hanley Ramirez was inked for at least four to takeover in left. That's fine for 2015, because Cecchini needs to prove his late-season surge is the real him -- he batted .333/.413/.500 in his last month at Triple-A and .258/.361/.452 in very limited MLB exposure -- but a spot isn't likely to open up in either of those positions for years.
Cecchini's stock fell a bit with his down 2014, but again, if he shows that he's learned and developed and is the exciting bat he looked like at this time last year, it'll be right back where it was. So, he still likely has plenty of trade value -- or will soon enough -- and has nowhere to play in Boston. There are three options: include Cecchini in a trade, hold on to him as depth in his age-24 season, or keep him around in case first base is open next year. Cecchini isn't a conventional first baseman, but if he shows himself capable of producing high-end on-base percentages in the majors, it won't matter if he's only slugging .400 or so.
Like with Marrero, that off chance there is a spot for him could be trumped easily by a mid-season deal to fill a major hole. The Sox would have to hope they can re-sign Napoli or find a replacement for him elsewhere during the offseason, but if it helps net you a key piece that leads to a successful playoff run, you make that deal and handle the fallout later.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley isn't a Red Sox prospect anymore, but he's spending his summer in Rhode Island with them just the same. His awful hitting in 2014 led him back to Triple-A, and in the time since the Red Sox promoted Mookie Betts, signed Rusney Castillo and Hanley Ramirez, and saw Shane Victorino return from his injuries long enough to get a shot at his old job. He's the most blocked player in the system, and if his 2014 wasn't so abysmal, he'd be somewhere else already.
There are still reasons to hope Bradley can turn it around, and if he hits even a tiny bit, he's valuable thanks to his exceptional, Gold Glove-caliber defense. In case you've forgotten:
Or maybe the still from that:
Photo credit: Jim Rogash
Or maybe you'd like to be reminded of his arm?
You don't just give up on that, and the Sox have not.
Bradley and his defense could always end up back on the Red Sox if there are a number of injuries, but the Ramirez, Castillo, Betts outfield is set for the next four years if the fates and Sox allow. So, Bradley's career options are either as a bench outfielder once the Sox have room for such a thing, or the guy who sits in Triple-A until the Sox find a big-league taker for him.
Bradley could be spun off to a team who plays in a large park or has poor corner outfielders. The Padres, for instance, are starting the season with Wil Myers in center field -- should they decide to give up on Yonder Alonso at first and then move one of their three outfielders there, someone like Bradley could be useful even if he still can't hit. He still has options in front of him, and is maybe the most obvious trade piece in the system if his bat can recover. It's not because he's bad or because he wouldn't be helpful: it's just because he's at the end of a very long and very promising line.
Coyle is kind of in the Cecchini situation, where he's not big-league ready yet -- and in fact hasn't even played at Triple-A -- but has nowhere to go once he is. The Sox placed the diminutive infielder on the 40-man roster this offseason, but that could end up being as close as he gets to Boston unless he's a visiting player.
Coyle batted .295/.371/.512 with 16 homers in 97 games for Double-A Portland last summer, once again missing time with injuries but showing too much promise to be left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. He'll be just 23 in 2015, so he has time to kill at Pawtucket, but if he mashes once again the Sox might have plenty of suitors interested given how dead the second base market is. Coyle also has a little bit of experience at third, and that's not exactly a flourishing position, either. Given his age and that his next game at Triple-A will be his first, he's not blocked as much as the rest of these players, but he's at least as likely to be moved in a world where Pablo Sandoval and Dustin Pedroia exist.
Brandon Workman might still be viewed as a starter in the eyes of teams in a better position to take chances, though, the Red Sox likely want to keep him around in case he develops into the kind of key bullpen piece they could use over the next few years. Bryce Brentz finally started walking at Triple-A, and while he's not a starting major-league outfielder, he's got enough right-handed pop that someone could utilize him in a platoon role. Matt Barnes is blocked in the rotation right now, but with spots potentially opening up in 2016 and Barnes' obvious potential as an impact reliever if the starting thing doesn't work out, the Sox are probably reluctant to move him, but it could happen for the right return.