All things considered, Saturday is not going to be a day in Red Sox history on which we look back fondly. They headed into the day as the game’s best and scariest offense, but they were of course eventually shut down and no-hit by Oakland’s Sean Manaea. Don’t worry, this is not me saying there is anything to worry about after this game. They got beat by a pitcher who was on his A-Game. It happens. It’s just that this turn of events took away from what was a generally happy pre-game atmosphere. The Red Sox got some good news earlier in the day on Saturday as they learned shortstop and early-season breakout Xander Bogaerts was just about ready to come back from injury. By his own request he’ll make a couple of rehab appearances with Pawtucket this week in order to get some defensive reps and get back into the flow of the game, but he’s physically ready to return and as long as nothing goes wrong he’s going to be back in the Red Sox lineup on Friday when the team returns home to take on Tampa Bay.
It goes without saying that this is great news for the Red Sox, as Bogaerts was arguably the best player on the team before he went down with his ankle injury. Obviously, Saturday notwithstanding it’s not as if the lineup has missed his presence. They’ve been firing on all cylinders, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever turn down a chance to get one of their best hitters back. It also gives them a more stable middle infield, which is never a bad thing.
So, there’s no doubt that they will welcome Bogaerts back with open arms. They will, however, need to figure out how they’re going to make room. They have multiple options, but there is no clear answer here. Ultimately, it will come down to Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin and Blake Swihart. One has to go, and they each have their clear pros and cons.
Holt is in an odd position in which he feels like the player most fans would like to see demoted by the guy who I would guess is the least likely to be taken off the roster upon Bogaerts’ return. Holt has been a mainstay on the roster for years and his versatility is as appreciated as ever in this era of ever-shrinking benches. That being said, his defense isn’t really great at any given position and his bat has seemingly taken a step back in recent years. To be fair, he has recovered at the plate recently after a rough start to the year and he’s gotten back up to league-average with the bat. Holt can be sent down to Pawtucket as he has one minor-league option remaining and less than five years of service time under his belt.
Lin is sort of the opposite of Holt in that he probably has the most backing among the fanbase but is most likely to be demoted to Pawtucket. The infielder, of course, was the one who took Bogaerts’ spot in the first place after starting the year in Triple-A. He is the better defensive player out of him and Holt as Lin is a plus player with the glove at both middle infield positions as well as at third base. I still think Holt has more offensive upside, but Lin has shown real bat-to-ball skills over the last two years and can clearly get into hot runs at the plate. The biggest argument in favor of optioning him over Holt, besides the major-league experience argument, in my opinion is the versatility. Lin has played some outfield in the minors but he could probably use some more time out there. I think there’s an argument to be made that the team could benefit in the long-run if Lin were to go back to Pawtucket for a little bit and get some consistent time in the outfield to expand his versatility.
Finally, there is Swihart, who is kind of the wildcard here. He’s purportedly a utility player at this point, but if we’re being honest I have no idea what he is. The catcher/baseball player was kept out of spring training and he is out of minor-league options, so they can’t send him to Pawtucket. He hasn’t really been used at all and I’m not sure where they see him fitting in. A lot of people want him to take over for Sandy Leon as the backup catcher, but I think it’s clear that they don’t see him as a legitimate option behind the plate. If they did, he’d probably have gotten at least one start there by now. I’d be surprised if they designated Swihart for assignment or traded him at this point, but there’s at least some chance of it given how little they’ve been using him despite their aggressive plan for resting all of their regulars.
At the end of the day, I think I’d put a large amount of fictional money on Lin getting demoted on Friday when Bogaerts comes back, with Holt transitioning back to a full-time utility role and Swihart contintuing to do whatever it is he’s been doing this year. That being said, it’s not out of the question we get a surprise here. The coaching staff reportedly really likes Lin, and they seem to have no use for Swihart. The next few days could play a legitimate role in the decision they make at the end of the week.