In Chaim Bloom’s first year with the Red Sox — it will officially be a year in a few weeks — there have been a whole lot of moves. The big ones get the most play for obvious reasons, but the vast majority of the transactions made over the last 12 months by the Red Sox have been small ones. The bottom quarter or so of the 40-man roster has seen a ton of turnover over the course of the year. By my count, there have been 16 “minor” additions made by Bloom that both saw time in the majors this year and also ended the season in the organization. Note that my definition of “minor” addition is players acquired by trade that didn’t include a player from the 40-man roster going the other way, waiver pickups, minor-league signings and Rule 5 draftees. In other words, Alex Verdugo is not a minor addition (duh) and neither is Nick Pivetta, but these extremely arbitrary rules that I just set up.
Anyway, I am laying that out because I am interested in figuring out just how many Bloom “hit” on here. We tend to think of the upside of these kinds of additions as having one or two become major contributors, but the fact of the matter is those outcomes are very rare. Instead, a real success story is simply someone who can continue to contribute to the organization as they move forward with the roster. And that is what these rankings are. I’m not ranking how they performed in 2020. The Red Sox are looking forward at this point, and thus so are we. I ranked all 16 of these minor additions (again, identified by my own arbitrary definition) in terms of how confident I am in their contributions moving forward.
We’ll work backwards for suspense and all that fun stuff. Don’t scroll down and read ahead though. That’s cheating. Line breaks represent the start of a new tier.
16. Zack Godley
Godley wasn’t the worst of these additions in 2020, but there are two key factors that hurt him in these specific rankings. One is that he is injured with an elbow injury that put him on the 45-day injured list to end the season. The other is that he is arbitration-eligible, and it seems pretty likely he won’t be tendered a contract. I wouldn’t be terribly shocked if they brought him back on a minor-league deal because why not I guess, but if I were a betting man I’d bet on him not pitching for the Red Sox again. Also he pitched to an 8.16 ERA.
15. Dylan Covey
Covey is also arbitration-eligible this winter and, given the roster crunch we discussed yesterday with Rule 5 eligible players, he is another likely non-tender candidate. That said, he didn’t finish the year on the IL and his peripherals were at least much better than Godley’s, so he finishes higher on the list.
14. Matt Hall
In terms of pitchers I’ll remember this season as representation for how bad the staff overall was, Hall is probably at the top of the list. The lefty was, frankly, a disaster with an 18.69 ERA. The only reason he’s ahead of the other two is because he’s not arbitration-eligible and he has options remaining so it’s possible they’ll want to keep him around, but if you wanted to put him lower I wouldn’t argue too much.
13. César Puello
Puello almost didn’t make it on this list but was a late-season call up to finish up the year in the majors. Since he’s out of options I suspect he’ll probably have to be brought back on a minor-league deal to make this work, but he provides good depth and the Red Sox still lack upper-level depth in the outfield, even with Jarren Duran getting close to knocking on the door.
12. Mike Kickham
Kickham, like the other pitchers lower on this list, finished with terrible numbers, closing the season with a 7.71 ERA that was actually a touch better than his FIP. That said, his stuff actually looked pretty solid at times and he certainly had more trust than the other three by the end of the year. I’m not expecting much, but like Puello he could be brought back on a minor-league deal as he is also out of options.
11. Andrew Triggs
Now we’re into the part of the list in which I don’t have a ton of confidence but I could talk myself into if I really needed to. If we’re being honest, I think a good chunk of my very mild optimism for Triggs comes from the fact that I wrote about fantasy baseball back in 2016 when he was the darling of that community. That was a long time ago. Still, he looked a little better in his last couple outings this summer. He also has options, although he is also arbitration-eligible so he’s another guy who would probably have to come back on a minor-league deal.
10. Robinson Leyer
With Leyer, the argument for him is not too difficult: His stuff is really good. He throws hard and his slider is nasty when it’s on. The bad news is he too often has no idea where the ball is going. Again, I wouldn’t bet on him figuring it out, but if he did he certainly wouldn’t be the first reliever to find a semblance of command out of nowhere.
9. Robert Stock
Stock is sort of a punching bag whenever he’s shown on TV because he doesn’t look like the most athletic guy in the world, but he showed some pretty solid stuff, particularly later in the year. The control is what will hold him back, but we’ve seen him have sustained success back in 2018 — he pitched to a 2.50 ERA and a 2.71 FIP over 39 2⁄3 innings — and I think they’ll keep him around as depth again for next year. Whether or not he makes good on any chance he does get is a different discussion.
8. Jonathan Araúz
After spending the whole season in the majors, Araúz will be able to be sent to the minors for 2021, which is the most likely outcome. The infielder was very impressive for a guy with minimal experience above High-A, but there is still clearly to be work done here. For most of the players on this list, the focus is on their 2021 impact for the most part. Araúz is a longer-term piece, whether that be as a future bench player or potentially as a trade chip if he takes another step and turns himself into a starting-caliber player. (With Jeter Downs in the organization, there would be a redundancy there.)
7. Deivy Grullón
Grullón just barely qualified for this list, having played just one game as the 29th man in a doubleheader. However, he did play, so he counts. And like Araúz, his likely impact will come after 2021. Expect him to serve as the third catcher as they will presumably bring Kevin Plawecki back for another year on the bench, but Grullón could step into that role as soon as 2022, and with an injury would have a real role as soon as next year. We have all of 13 plate appearances to judge at the major-league level, but he’s hit in the upper minors and his defense is good enough to live with as a backup.
6. Chris Mazza
Something I found myself experiencing watching this Red Sox team every day throughout the summer was a weird version of Stockholm Syndrome where I saw so many bad pitchers I started finding reasons to like all of them. Mazza was the one with whom I experienced it the most. He certainly should not be part of any top five on the roster to start the season, but as an emergency type/long reliever a la Brian Johnson and Hector Velázquez a couple years ago? I’ve talked myself into it. It is also worth mentioning Mazza both has options remaining and is not arbitration-eligible.
5. Jeffrey Springs
Springs left just about the worst possible first impression with fans this summer, and for that reason he was lumped in with the Matt Halls and Dylan Coveys of the world for much longer than he should have been. In actuality, Springs was actually really solid for most of the second half. The strikeout stuff in particular was surprising, and I can certainly see him as an up-and-down reliever moving forward. And, if he can find a way to get the ball on the ground a bit more often, he could feasibly make his way to a permanent role.
4. Phillips Valdez
In terms of 2020 performance, Valdez is number one on this list and it’s not particularly close. He quickly moved his way up the depth chart and spent most of the season pitching important innings and trying to stop the bleeding when his teammates struggled. The righty was very successful in this role. I’m a little skeptical for how well it will carry over, though. He walked a lot of batters and didn’t really back it up with the big-time strikeout totals usually necessary to cancel out the walks. I also feel like a lot of Valdez’s success came because of how heavily he leaned on his changeup (he threw it 49 percent of the time, per Baseball Savant), which is not a typical approach. As more hitters see him more often, I could see things turning quickly. All of that said, he’s likely going to be in the 2021 plans from the start, and he’s earned that.
3. Austin Brice
Speaking of walks, Brice 13 free passes in under 20 innings, which is not easy to do! He was also wildly inconsistent as the season went along, sometimes looking like a legitimate set-up arm and other times looking like he didn’t belong in the majors. He’s easier for me to buy moving forward largely because he’s done it before — he was really solid in 2019 for the Marlins — and his approach as well as his strikeout numbers feel more sustainable to me moving forward. But it’s a razor-thin margin between him and Valdez here.
2. Christian Arroyo
Jerry Remy thinks Arroyo should be the starting second baseman to start 2021. I do not agree with this assessment, but it speaks to how well he played to end the year. Arroyo hit for power while showing a solid, repeatable approach at the plate and still managed to stay pretty close to league-average offense despite rough batted ball luck. I think he’s more of a bench player, but he’s earned at least a bench spot for 2021.
1. Yairo Muñoz
Because of injury, we didn’t get to see a whole lot of Muñoz, but what we did see combined with his major-league track record (which is really solid) is enough for me to be confident in him holding down a role next year and beyond that. He can hit close to league-average. He can play all over the field. And he brings big-time energy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arroyo had a bigger role to start next season, but I’m more confident in Muñoz being the more important player by the end of 2021 and looking into 2022.