Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the end of the Red Sox roster and what it could look like by the time the season begins. Part of this is because there’s not much going on. Part of this is because the main portion of the roster stands to be largely the same as last season, and I’m saving my thoughts on those players until the One Big Question series begins. Part of it is because I am a severely disturbed human being whose ability to think about the things normal people think about has disintegrated to the point of barely existing.
Anyway, at this point we basically know the strengths and flaws of this Red Sox team, and while they could change somewhat with an addition or two we know what the main cast will provide. The way in which they will construct the end of their roster, though, is fascinating to me. Now, it’s a fool’s errand to try figure out what the roster will look like on March 29. We don’t even know who will be on the roster at the start of camp, never mind who will make it through the spring with a clean bill of health. Injuries, as always, will play the biggest role as to who will be on the Red Sox Opening Day roster. That being said, if everyone makes it through camp healthy, the Red Sox have some interesting decisions to make given how many players are out of options.
Let’s start by simply looking at all of the players who are competing for a bench spot that are out of options. In other words, these players either will make the major-league bench, or they’ll have to be exposed to waivers before they can be sent down to Triple-A as a depth piece. These players are: Blake Swihart, Sandy Leon, Deven Marrero, Bryce Brentz, Brian Johnson and Heath Hembree. None of these players are stars and none are likely to find prominent roles on the team — at least we’d hope — but they are all in the running for bench roles to start the year. Of course, there is not enough room for all of them.
So, I suppose our goal for today is to figure out how much room there is for these guys on the roster, and which ones are likely to be the first on the chopping block. We’ll start with the position player side of things, which is the more crowded area. Here, we have two scenarios. The first is in which the Red Sox sign J.D. Martinez or another DH, and the other is if they don’t. Note that I find it hard to believe the Red Sox will find a way to rid themselves of Hanley Ramirez in either scenario, so I’ll assume he’s on the roster either way.
Okay, so, first we have to note that today’s game generally features four-man benches for American League teams. We also have to acknowledge that, while Brock Holt does have an option remaining, it seems impossible that the team will use it. So, in the scenario where J.D. Martinez or someone similar is not signed and Ramirez is the primary DH, there are only three spots up for grabs. Leon is the presumed favorite for the backup catcher job, so he’ll get one. This group only has Holt as a backup outfielder, so Brentz would presumably make this roster as well. That would leave it between Marrero and Swihart. The latter has more upside and could be more valuable to keep around, but the former might be a better fit on a roster that could use a reliable glove on the bench to help out the left side of the infield in late game situations. I’d probably expect Marrero to win out in this scenario, but neither outcome would be terribly surprising.
Meanwhile, things get even more muddled in the scenario where a new DH is brought in, as that would move Ramirez to the bench. Here, Brentz could likely be taken out of the picture with the new addition serving as a new fourth outfielder. If they made a signing and were somehow able to find a taker for Ramirez, I still think Brentz would be the odd man out with both Swihart and Marrero making the bench along with Holt and Leon.
Over on the pitching side, things aren’t quite as complicated, though there are a lot of decisions to make. Here, it is easier to start a player in the minors just because they have options. Pitching depth is absolutely crucial given how often pitchers get hurt and how many pitchers are used in any given season. However, Johnson and Hembree being in the bullpen to start the season doesn’t come close to representing the best Red Sox team. Johnson would likely be the lone lefty in the bullpen in this scenario, with Robby Scott being relegated to Triple-A. Meanwhile, Hembree would be blocking more exciting options such as Brandon Workman and Austin Maddox. This is without mentioning the possibility of a signing a la Tony Watson, too. In this case, one of Johnson or Hembree could be at risk of losing their spot. At the end of the day, I think you can live with these decisions to start the year in order to preserve as much pitching depth as possible. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s more likely for a pitcher to be injured in camp than a position player.
As I said from the beginning, injuries could possibly make these decisions much easier than they seem to be right now. However, if everyone makes it out of camp healthy these are going to be tough choices for the front office. If they do end up approaching the regular season with everyone healthy, don’t be surprised to see some sort of minor trade involving one or two of these guys. It’s also possible — and maybe even more likely — that they’ll try to sneak the odd man or men out through waivers at a busy time. Given the potential impact from each of them, though, it doesn’t seem likely they’d make it through. As things stand right now, if everyone makes it through camp healthy at least one of Brentz, Marrero and Swihart is likely going to be on another team for the 2018 season. It’s an interesting story line to keep an eye on as we get closer and closer to the start of camp.