We learned last night that the Red Sox and Eduardo Nuñez, who came in last summer and helped light a spark under this team that led to a division title, came to an agreement on a new contract. Now, the deal isn’t official yet and there is still one legitimate hurdle in the way with Nuñez having to pass a physical. Given his knee injury at the end of last year, that’s no guarantee. We’ll learn soon enough — there are rumors the physical is today (Friday) — whether or not this deal is actually done. For now, let’s assume he will indeed join the roster. I am among those who certainly think it’s a net positive for the team, but there are players who will be negatively affected by this. Let’s take a quick look at the possible roster implications.
Players who could be designated for assignment
- Williams Jerez, to me, is the most likely candidate to be designated for assignment in order to make room for Nuñez on the 40-man roster. It’s not at all a slam dunk because the Red Sox could want to keep all of the pitching depth on the roster as possible and not cut a pitcher to make room for a pitcher. That being said, based on track record and talent, Jerez appears to be the relatively easy choice, particularly given the proximity of Bobby Poyner and the fact that Jerez probably has the best shot of making it through waivers of anyone on the 40-man.
- Sticking with the pitching theme, Roenis Elias could also be on the chopping block. I would be really surprised if Jerez was kept in favor of Elias due to the latter’s track record in the majors, even if it was a couple years ago at this point. Still, I saw his name mentioned as a possibility somewhere last night so I had to mention him.
- If they are going to make room for Nuñez with a position player, I would assume that Deven Marrero makes the most sense. Marrero is a phenomenal defensive player and showed last year that he can provide some real value. Even at the plate, he at least hit well against left-handed pitching. Still, he’s out of options and the Red Sox have plenty of bench-type infielders in Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin and (potentially) Esteban Quiroz. If Marrero is designated for assignment I would guess someone will claim him off waivers.
- Another longshot worth mentioning is Bryce Brentz. He’s still the primary fourth outfielder for the time being, but I still can’t get over the fact that he was not called up last year but will be relied upon in 2018. Maybe the Red Sox feel Brock Holt can adequately fill in as the fourth outfielder. I wouldn’t bet on this, but it wouldn’t completely shock me.
Players who could be demoted to Pawtucket after camp
- The most obvious loser of this deal in my mind is Marco Hernandez. Prior to this signing he seemed to be the prohibitive favorite to start the year as the starting second baseman in Dustin Pedroia’s absence. Now, I’d bet on him starting the year in Pawtucket. For one thing, he is one of the few bench position players with options, and that matters. Furthermore, he is reportedly still having trouble with the shoulder injury that prematurely ended his 2017 campaign. Hernandez can play a big role in 2018 at some point, but I’m guessing it’ll start in Triple-A.
- The only other potential bench player with options right now is Brock Holt, so he has to be mentioned here. I could very well be misreading the situation, but I would be really surprised if he starts the year in Pawtucket. He has been up in the majors long enough that I don’t think they’ll do that to him even with his struggles in 2017. If he’s awful in camp and/or there are some signs that his head injuries from last year are sticking around, I could change my tune. At this point, though, I’d bet against this.
Players that could lose their job by the end of camp
- The Red Sox ultimately don’t have to make a decision on their final roster until the end of camp, and a few guys could be playing for job. Blake Swihart was already expected to come in and fill a super-utility type role. I think the team still likes him enough to try and make it work, but the chances are certainly greater now that he won’t make it through. Presumably they would have a better chance of being able to trade Swihart than they would with some of the DFA candidates mentioned above.
- Sandy Leon fits this, too, if they decide they really want to keep Swihart but don’t have room for three catchers. This would be relatively shocking as Leon has proven to be a solid backup catcher with a good rapport with the pitching staff, but it’s tough to argue that Swihart doesn’t have more upside.
- Then there’s Marrero again. If the Red Sox do cut a pitcher to make room on the 40-man for Nuñez, that doesn’t mean Marrero is out of the woods. He is still out of options and if everyone makes it through camp healthy someone will be left out and Marrero is firmly in the middle of that group.
My roster projection
Here are the 13 position players I would guess will make the roster assuming the Nuñez deal gets done.
- Christian Vazquez
- Mitch Moreland
- Eduardo Nuñez
- Rafael Devers
- Xander Bogaerts
- Andrew Benintendi
- Jackie Bradley Jr.
- Mookie Betts
- Hanley Ramirez
- Sandy Leon
- Blake Swihart
- Brock Holt
- Bryce Brentz
At the end of the day, I’ll predict that Jerez will be designated for assignment soon to make room on the 40-man and that Marrero will be kept around through camp in case of injury. If everyone makes it through healthy, I’ll guess that he’ll be in a different uniform on Opening Day. Obviously, if they sign J.D. Martinez things get even more complicated, but we’ll cross that bridge if/when it comes.