The Red Sox are not playing for 2020. They’re eyes are firmly on the future. Clearly I’m not breaking any news here, but it is important to continuously reiterate this with respect to any decision they make over the next couple of weeks. The players and coaches (hopefully) aren’t actively trying to lose, but there’s little doubt that the future is on the minds of everyone. Players are playing for future raises and jobs. Coaches are trying to either save their jobs or pad their resumés for future ones. The front office, though, is no-doubt sending directives to make sure 2021 is the focus for the organization. Within reason, they are going to do everything in their power to get as much information as possible about players potentially on the fringes of the roster as they head into a pivotal offseason for the franchise.
All of this leads me to one particularly fringe player: C.J. Chatham. With all of these players getting looks ahead of 2021, including prospects like Bobby Dalbec and Tanner Houck, the latter of whom will make his debut on Tuesday, Chatham seemingly hasn’t even been considered. I do believe he’s been on the taxi squad a handful of times on the road, but at least based on the tea leaves it’s never appeared a call-up is imminent. And it’s kind of confusing to me.
Now, I don’t want to make it seem like the Red Sox are committing some sort of malpractice here or keeping down a player who is destined for stardom. That’s not who Chatham is, and as I’ll get to in a minute there is some justification for the Red Sox’s decision. It’s just strange because he was a player who was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Not everyone who is protected from the Rule 5 Draft gets that protection due to an imminent call up, to be fair. There are players, such as Yoan Aybar and Marcus Wilson last year, who were protected due to upside down the road.
Chatham isn’t that guy, though. He’s not an upside play. He was protected because he’s solid and close to the majors. Back in February, before the world ended, the presumption from the outside was that he’d start the year in Triple-A and would eventually get his chance, at least off the bench, by mid-summer. Things obviously changed since then and the schedule shortening doesn’t help anyone get their chance, but the Red Sox also had their primary second base option (José Peraza) fail. That opened up chances, but Chatham wasn’t selected for those chances.
It’s important to contextualize who Chatham is as a player, of course, and as I mentioned above he is not a future star. He has shown off a solid hit tool in the minors, which can probably peak around average. The issue is that he doesn’t pair it with either power or patience, which means he either needs to take an unexpected leap towards a near-elite hit tool or develop one of those two qualities. On the other side of the ball he does provide solid defense at both middle infield spots. Add it all together there’s real potential for a very usable bench player there, but the ceiling is clearly limited.
That is important information, of course, but even if you take into account Chatham’s limited ceiling, it still begs the question: Are the other options more promising? Christian Arroyo seems to be the favorite to get most of the time at second down the stretch, and while he has been rated more highly in the past he hasn’t done much more than Chatham after getting out of the high minors. That said, the prospect pedigree can’t be ignored, he’s out of options so getting the information now is paramount, and he’s also a few months younger than Chatham. Michael Chavis has a higher ceiling than Chatham as well.
So there is fair reasoning behind not giving Chatham his chance given the construction of the roster, but the question remains as to what this means for the former second round pick’s future. The Red Sox don’t necessarily have to do anything with him since he’ll still have a couple of options left heading into next season, but it’s not that simple. The Red Sox have at least six guys they’ll almost certainly want to add to the 40-man for Rule 5 protection, not to mention all the work that will need to be done to remake the roster. There are going to be crunches this winter, and Chatham could already be on the outside looking in. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s an early 40-man casualty when the offseason gets going in November.
It’s been a quick decline in stock for Chatham, and it’s happened mostly behind closed doors with the lack of real minor-league ball this summer. But that he’s been passed on the depth chart at second base by the likes of Arroyo, Chavis, Jonathan Araúz and Yairo Muñoz, Chatham certainly seems like he’s on the outside looking in. And at this point, whether it’s as a trade chip or a player they try to sneak through waivers at a busy point in the offseason, he certainly looks like a player we should be watching early on in the winter.