Among the handful of new rules that are expected to be implemented into baseball this year is the addition of the 26th man on the active roster, which will come with a reduction to 28-man rosters in September rather than the 40-man rosters we’d played with in the past. We’ll set that second part aside for the time being and just focus on what the rule will be for the first five months of the season. Specifically, I want to look at how this new rule will affect strategy around roster building. Granted, we don’t really have a baseline here what with this being Chaim Bloom’s first year at the helm, but we can at least compare the current situation to how things went in the past. These are in no particular order of importance or likelihood or any other sorting method you can thing of.
Rule 5 Draft
When looking at who the Red Sox would protect in the Rule 5 Draft and how they could still potentially have room to draft a player I first started thinking about ramifications for this added roster spot. Boston participating in the Rule 5 Draft has been pretty rare in recent years, with most of their picks being traded immediately after being made. That could change this year. The added roster spot’s impact is pretty straightforward here, with it being easier to hide a younger player who may not quite be ready with an extra body around. The Red Sox roster currently stands at 39, but they have the ability to make plenty of extra room if the need arises. Considering they are looking to save money as well as the relatively less-than-inspiring group of relievers in free agency, Bloom could see this as an opportunity to add an extra arm to the bullpen mix — or another position group, though reliever seems like the most likely position to me — without a real financial commitment.
Brock Holt’s Value
This is perhaps the most interesting part of all of this, both from a Red Sox perspective and a league-wide one. For his entire career in Boston, Holt’s most valuable asset has been his ability to play all over the field. It’s obviously valuable on its face, but it’s hard to get the true value of this skillset without watching every day and knowing the roster mechanisms. Having that versatility made it easier for the Red Sox to carry an extra pitcher and/or a guy like J.D. Martinez or anyone else that really shouldn’t be playing the field. Now, adding one more roster spot isn’t going to make versatility obsolete. As long as the roster isn’t infinite versatility is preferred to no versatility with all else being equal. The value absolutely goes down, though. I’m interested to see if the Red Sox see things that way and whether or not the league does, too. It seems like this is the worst possible time for someone like Holt to hit free agency.
It seems the players who generally will be most affected by this around the league will be those who are out of options. A big portion of those players will be those who are out of minor-league options. The Red Sox have a handful of those players who may or may not make the cut for the Opening Day roster in Sam Travis, Tzu-Wei Lin and Brian Johnson. All of them have pros and cons for being kept around. Travis showed real improvements at the plate last year, even if it was mostly as a right-handed platoon bat. He can also play some left field and this team lacks outfield depth. Lin still has a slick glove and there’s a chance the downtick in offensive production was just a blip on the radar. He can also play some outfield. Johnson has been a major-league starter before and this team seriously lacks rotation depth. None of this trio is a lock to make the roster even with the extra spot open, but their chances certainly increase with the extra room.
Accelerating timelines for prospects
This one, if it exists at all, would come into play as the season goes on. I wonder if we’ll see teams accelerate timelines for prospects, at least after they’ve manipulated service time to their liking. It’s entirely possible I’m just overthinking this one, but my line of thinking is similar to the one in the Rule 5 section. It’s easier to fit a player on the roster who may not be used as much, so there would theoretically be less pressure on said top prospect. For example, say the Red Sox offense is slumping a bit in the middle of May and Bobby Dalbec is raking in Pawtucket. He can come up and be eased in a little more than usual while still potentially providing the spark the team is looking for. Similarly, Tanner Houck could be added a little earlier than usual and be given the chance to get his feet wet before turning into what they hope could be an impact arm at some point in the second half.