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The Red Sox could use a running specialist

It’s a minor thing, but it can make a major impact

Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

We have less than two weeks remaining in August, which seems hard to believe because summer feels like it just started, dammit. Anyway, the imminent end of the month means two things for teams around the league. For one, rosters are about to expand. That’s good for everyone, as rebuilding squads get a chance to see some younger players before making offseason decisions and contending teams get some reinforcements and an ability to provide more rest for their key players. For the Red specifically, it means they should be able to get all of their pitchers — starters and relievers — a little extra time on the pine as long as they keep their big divisional lead in check.

That’s all well and good, and we’ll have a look at potential September call-ups in the coming days, but for today I want to look at the other significant landmark coming up on the calendar. August 31 marks the last day a player can be added to the organization and still be eligible for the playoff roster. There are some misconceptions about playoff eligibility — a player can be added to the active roster in September and still be eligible for the playoffs — but they have to be in the organization by August 31. Last year included one of the most impactful late-August deals when the Astros traded for Justin Verlander right at the buzzer and he was a major reason they won a championship.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

I seriously doubt the Red Sox make a deal like that, but that doesn’t mean they can’t upgrade the roster. There aren’t a ton of areas of need, but they can find some pieces. While the woes of the bullpen have been overstated all year, there’s always room for another good arm. If a good option falls to them in waivers, they should jump on that. Unfortuantely, it’s hard to see a real impact arm making it all the way to them on the wire. As much as I’d be fine with them adding another arm, I’d be shocked if it actually happened.

The other area of need would be a running specialist, which isn’t the sexiest spot on the roster but it’s something that can make all the difference in any given game. It’s something we talked a little about earlier in the month. Dedicating a roster spot for something that could come up once or twice is obviously not a smart idea in the regular season, when teams need to maximize their roster to provide rest and depth in multiple areas. However, depth is less important in October and one game and one scenario can make all the difference in the world. As we speak today the Red Sox have a nine-game lead in the American League East, and while they still have work to do to wrap up the division they can afford to look forward to October with the August deadline coming up.

On Monday night, the Red Sox had a situation that highlighted their potential need for a guy who can come off the bench and add instant impact with his legs. Against Cleveland, the Red Sox were down by two runs and Mitch Moreland was at first base representing the tying run. It was a situation where, for some runners, a double would tie the game. Moreland is far from a guarantee to be able to score on that kind of play, however. If the Red Sox had a strong pinch running option, it would be an obvious situation to use them. Now, this isn’t a perfect example because Boston is currently playing with a short bench and already used their reserves in other situations, but A) it still speaks to a general lack of useful position player depth and B) even with a full roster of options there’s not a great runner available.

In terms of internal options, there are some guys who could be utilized here, but none are really ideal. If we assume the team is at full health, the Red Sox playoff roster would like have Steve Pearce, Blake Swihart, Brock Holt, Eduardo Núñez and Tzu-Wei Lin on the bench. All but Pearce are average-or-better runners, but none are true burners. Núñez is probably the closest to that, but he’s not the same runner he was in his prime. Additionally, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him get some run over Rafael Devers while also representing a pinch hitting option later in the game. Lin would be next in that group, and while he’s certainly an upgrade over guys like Moreland and J.D. Martinez, he’s not the kind of runner you send it knowing you can get a stolen base pretty much at will. Finding those guys, particularly in today’s game, is easier said than done, but as we learned in 2004 it can make all the difference.

As far as options go, Terrence Gore was the protoypical running option that would be available in a trade. He’s spent pretty much all year in Triple-A, and he’s not particularly good at really anything besides running. He flies, though, and the Cubs recognized that and snatched him up earlier this month in a shrewd move. With him off the board, there are other options even if they probably aren’t quite as fast as Gore. Paulo Orlando from Kansas City is the guy I keep coming back to. Like Gore, he’s not someone you want getting any at bats in the postseason, but he’s a true burner and has some instincts on the bases. He’s also spent some time in the minors this year and would cost next to nothing to acquire. Other options include Craig Gentry, Gregory Blanco, J.B. Shuck and Travis Jankowski, along with some minor leaguers I’ve probably never heard of.

At the end of they day, it’s not life or death if the Red Sox fail to acquire this kind of player. They can survive without it. That being said, it would be a better use of their roster if they could find a true burner. Sure, they could get away with Lin as their top running option, and he’s a better overall player than anyone they’d acquire for this role. He’s also highly redundant with guys like Holt and Núñez, so his overall package doesn’t matter yet. If Lin is on the playoff roster, his speed will be his most important quality, and the Red Sox can do better if they look outside the organization.