This past November, teams around the league shuffled around their 40-man rosters ahead of the Rule 5 protection deadline to make sure some of their best prospects couldn’t be scooped up by other clubs for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. The Red Sox were one of those teams, having their busiest day of the winter. Not only did they add Michael Chavis, Travis Lakins, Darwinzon Hernández, Josh Taylor and Denyi Reyes to the 40-man to protect them from Rule 5 eligibility, but they also added Colten Brewer in a trade with the Padres. Meanwhile, to create a few extra spots they released William Cuevas, who signed on to play in Korea this year, and outrighted the injured Austin Maddox off the 40-man. After all of the dust settled, they had an open 40-man spot, which was later claimed by Nathan Eovaldi after he agreed to his new four-year deal. Not too long after that, another spot opened up when Robby Scott was claimed off waivers by the Reds.
That left Boston with an open 40-man spot back on December 10, and nothing has been done with the spot since then. It was the assumption of many, myself included, that it was opened up in order to add another reliever to the roster, whether it be a re-signing of Craig Kimbrel or Joe Kelly or a new addition like Adam Ottavino or one of the other many relievers available this winter. Instead, it has been left empty. Then, just last week, Steven Wright was suspended for the first 80 games of the 2019 season. During that time he’ll be on the restricted list, opening up a second 40-man roster spot. There’s also the possibility of a third spot being opened up if/when the Red Sox trade one of their catchers if they get back a player who doesn’t need to be aded to the roster. Now, the question is what exactly the Red Sox are planning to do with these open spots.
Obviously, the most logical place to add talent onto the roster would be in the bullpen. As mentioned above, that was how we expected them to use any open space when the winter began. Of course, the Red Sox brass has shown more confidence in their current crop of relievers than fans, so they may not deem it as necessary. Even if they don’t want to necessarily add more relievers just for the sake of doing it, eventually these spots are going to be filled. My guess would be that at least one is filled by the time the regular season begins. The good news is, even though there is no rush, there are many avenues through which they can find new players for the roster.
The most obvious path to adding new players is also probably the least likely at this point: Free agency. Like I said, essentially everyone outside the organization expected the Red Sox to add a reliever on a major-league deal this winter, but the only new addition has been Brewer. With names like Kimbrel, Ottavino, David Robertson and even lower-tiered arms like Sergio Romo out there, it seemed like a shoo-in an obvious contender like the Red Sox would be in there. It’s still possible they’ll add someone on a major-league deal at this point, but they’ve made every indication they won’t sign Kimbrel and the other available names are headlined by guys like Ryan Madson, Blake Wood and Jim Johnson. That’s not great! I wouldn’t expect either 40-man spot to be filled by a free agent at this point.
The next way to do it would be to stop looking out of the organization and add some talent that is already in the organization. There are a lot of candidates here, though I’m not sure any of them are good candidates to be added right away. There is, of course, little reason to add anyone to the 40-man before they are called up to the majors. Still, at some point in the season they could be looking at reinforcements. Durbin Feltman is the most high-profile among this group, and I’d expect him to get a 40-man spot at some point this summer. Beyond him, there’s Mike Shawaryn and minor-league signings from this winter like Erasmo Ramírez, Ryan Weber, Zach Putnam, Domingo Tapia and Jenrry Mejia. Of course, by the time some of these players get added there could be other spots opened up by long-term injuries and/or DFA’s. Non-pitchers who could be added include Bobby Dalbec, Gorkys Hernández, Juan Centeno and Tony Renda.
There is also the possibility of a trade, though I don’t necessarily expect one before Opening Day. This would exclude a trade involving one of the catchers, which could theoretically add a player eligible for the 40-man but would be a neutral move in terms of roster spots. I think this is a very real possibility, though I don’t think it’s necessarily imminent. Instead, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Red Sox are one of the first teams to enter the trade market in 2019. With the rise of teams punting on seasons, particularly in the American League, trades early in the year become more possible. I could see Boston looking at trade candidates as early as late-May this year, though obviously if the bullpen outperforms expectations that will be less likely.
Finally, the most likely way in which these spots would be filled between now and Opening Day is through the waiver wire. Towards the end of camp, we will see a lot of players hit the wire after being designated for assignment as teams finalize their 25-man active rosters for the regular season. Players who are out of minor-league options will lose out on spots and teams will try to sneak them through waivers during a very busy waiver time around the league. A team like the Red Sox with open 40-man spots will be in a better position than most to capitalize. I’ll take a look at some possible names who could hit the wire later in the week, but this is a market to start keeping an eye on over the next couple of weeks.
The Red Sox don’t have to make any moves right now, and based on how they’ve approached this offseason it’s hard to believe they feel any pressure to do so at this point. They are clearly happy (or at least satisfied) with what they have and can live with a couple of open 40-man spots if they are fine with the 25-man roster. In fact, the longer they have the flexibility the better. That being said, at one point or another these spots are going to be filled, and I’d guess that one will be with a waiver claim before the season and another will be with a relatively early call-up from one of the guys not currently on the 40-man.