Teams have to strike a balance between stockpiling depth and roster limits. There is the 25-man roster, which forces teams to pick the 25 players they need day-to-day, and then the 40-man roster, which expands things a bit and allows teams a few more players to rely on in-season should injury or disappointment arise from the 25.
Baseball teams can't just fill the 40-man roster or minors full of players they don't have an immediate use for forever, though. Players get options -- three of them -- and once those option years are used up, they can no longer be sent to the minors without clearing waivers first. The Sox have three players in this situation at present, and there just aren't enough spaces on the 25-man to house them all for very long, if at all.
What this means is that the Sox might need to decide which of the pitchers they are fine with potentially losing on waivers -- if not by Opening Day, then at least by the time Eduardo Rodriguez returns from injury.
There was some question about Wright's place on the roster earlier in the spring, but it seemed a little unfounded even before Eduardo Rodriguez went down with a knee injury that will cause him to miss the start of 2016's regular season. Wright has success as a starter and as a reliever in the majors -- it's brief, but 107 innings of 108 ERA+ ball as a knuckler who isn't walking every other batter isn't something you want to ignore -- and the Sox are in need of a swingman type at a time when their relievers are dominant one-inning guys and their pitching depth might not be finished baking at Triple-A.
So, Wright isn't likely to go anywhere, even if teams want him -- not now when he's in the mix to start in place of Rodriguez, and not afterward when Rodriguez returns to the fold. His presence allows Henry Owens to continue to work on his repertoire and control at Triple-A, for Brian Johnson to prove everything in his elbow is working, and for Roenis Elias to remain a deep option for the rotation and left-handed bullpen depth.
Starting pitching depth is a need even for a rotation where everything should go just fine: the Sox have the 23-year-old Rodriguez and the inherent innings limits of that situation, Joe Kelly's last attempt to stick as a starter, and the Clay Buchholz injury that the Sox need to be prepared for on a yearly basis to worry about. If disaster strikes, three of the four depth options could be in the rotation at the same time, and since they all fit comfortably on one Red Sox roster or another, there's no need to make Wright the guy pushed out because he's out of options.
Now, things could change if Wright suddenly loses his ability to throw strikes or keep the ball in the park, but until that's the case -- and who knows if it even would be this year -- we can safely keep him out of this conversation.
Layne's 2015? Not great! It wasn't his fault, though, that the Sox pen was bereft of options to face right-handed batters more often than not. Layne is a natural left-handed one out guy, or LOOGY if you're into acronyms and easier-to-read sentences. Against lefty batters in 2015, Layne was phenomenal, limiting them to a .148/.248/.170 line in 102 plate appearances. Against righties, though? .322/.433/.517 in 105 plate appearances, which undid nearly all the good work against his fellow southpaws.
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A LOOGY is something of a luxury, sure, but they're a luxury the Red Sox can easily afford to have in a bullpen that also has Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Carson Smith in it. Robbie Ross, who was probably the best reliever left standing in the Sox pen by the end of 2015, is now the fifth-best option in there on a given night. He can be the lefty who comes in to face both righties and lefties, while Layne can be the guy who comes to throw against a particularly tough one or two in a row.
Given that the Sox lack an established lefty beyond Ross, Layne's roster spot seems secure. Elias is going to stay stretched out in Triple-A in case he's needed for a start or starts. Williams Jerez still has plenty of development left to do before he is summoned from Triple-A. Edwin Escobar has some work left to do to get back into the conversation for a big-league spot. That leaves Layne for this unheralded but still important role in the Boston pen.
Just keep him away from righties, please.
[Update: Escobar apparently does have an option remaining, and the Red Sox used it on Tuesday during a round of roster cuts. His three options were already used as written below, but he has a fourth one to utilize now, likely thanks to missing so much of 2015 with injury combined with his status as an international free agent who spent his early years in Rookie-level leagues. You can read more about the acquisition of a fourth option year at Baseball America.
Thankfully, everything pertaining to the inability of the Sox to demote Wright or Layne without potentially losing them remains true. Well, okay, not "thankfully," but you get it.]
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Speaking of Escobar, he might be out of luck for a Sox roster spot in 2016. Wright and Layne have obvious appeal and uses both right now and in the future: Escobar missed most of 2015 with elbow issues, and hadn't yet fully transformed into a reliever just yet, either. He's out of options, though, so the Sox have to figure something out if they don't want to lose the former top-100 arm to waivers.
There is an easy way to get him onto the roster to begin 2016, but it's temporary: let Escobar take Eduardo Rodriguez's roster spot when he officially hits the disabled list, which is in effect Steven Wright's bullpen spot. The problem there is that Rodriguez isn't expected to miss all that much time, so it's not guaranteed to keep Escobar around for more than a few days or a weeks extra.
With that being said, a whole lot can go wrong in just a few days or weeks. Another pitcher, starter or reliever, could get hurt. That would leave space for Escobar on the roster as another left-handed option out of the pen. So, you don't hope for further injury, but if one comes, Escobar has his way to stick around.
The question is if the Sox should bother to use that spot on the 24-year-old Escobar or just chance losing him on waivers after a rough, injury-plagued 2015. You could lean toward just letting him go if the Sox had a strong option to replace him on the roster, but Heath Hembree's previous major-league performances have kept him from knocking that door down with ease regardless of how good he looks in the minors. Plus, burning their hold on Escobar just to get a different reliever on the roster for a limited amount of time seems shortsighted.
So, the best plan for keeping Escobar around now seems to be putting him on the roster to begin the year, and when Rodriguez comes back, there will either still be room for him or there won't be. It's pushing off the question into April, but what else is there to do? At least if Escobar pitches well in his limited time in the bigs, Boston might be able to extract a little more for him. And if he pitches poorly? Then it's probably not worth worrying too much about.