We are now only days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training and camp getting started in full swing. Players need to be officially reporting to Fort Myers by Thursday, with workouts starting before the week is over. It has been a long offseason, but it’s finally coming to a close.
For the Red Sox specifically, things were slow moving for the most part over the first half of the offseason. This was, of course, true for more teams than just the Red Sox. But Boston has picked up the pace over the last month or so, doing the bulk of their work since mid-January. In that time they’ve added: Martín Pérez, Enrique Hernández, Garrett Richards, Adam Ottavino, Hirokazu Sawamura, Franchy Cordero and most recently Marwin Gonzalez. Now as the season approaches, there is an argument that the roster is complete. But is it? Or is there room for one more addition?
This isn’t quite as simple as wondering whether or not they have room on their active roster for another player, because they do. Right now they seem to be one position player short for a traditional roster, as a four-man bench would include either Michael Chavis or Yairo Muñoz, both of whom seem like they should be headed to the minors if everyone is healthy. So the first natural question would be: If you add another player, what position would they play?
Well, to start it is indeed a position player. The pitching certainly is not unable to be improved, but that part of the roster is almost certainly full once the Sawamura signing becomes official. So the need comes on the position player side. From there, though, there are actually a number of different routes you can take. Thanks to the versatility added this winter, specifically with players like Hernández and Gonzalez, they can make use of any type of player. Right now, the three most obvious places to look would be center field, second base or a left-handed bat who can play first base. Hernández can play either of the first two spots while Gonzalez can play either of the latter two, so it’s not necessarily a need, but it would round out the roster a bit more.
There are other things to consider here, though, that could swing the argument in favor of wrapping it up and moving ahead with the roster they have now. The first consideration is financial. We can argue all day and night about how much the luxury tax really should matter, but it’s a factor in these decisions. According to Cot’s Contracts, Boston has about $6 million to play with before hitting the first threshold. You can shrink that number a bit, too, based on call ups in the season who are not yet counted on the roster, but $6 million is a good rough estimate.
That is certainly enough to make a move. It’s probably not enough for, say, Jackie Bradley Jr., but for someone like Mitch Moreland or Kevin Pillar or Brad Miller or Jason Kipnis or whoever else. And while teams typically like to leave some breathing room heading into the season so they can potentially add salary mid-year at the trade deadline, I don’t see that as a major concern for the Red Sox. I don’t suspect they’ll go over just for the sake of going over, but I do believe if they see a good fit still out there in the market they’ll sign them and then still be willing to spend to go over again at the deadline if it means they’re in the postseason race. So the finances are a consideration, but I don’t see it as a barrier that can’t be overcome.
Beyond the finances, there’s also making room on the 40-man roster. Boston has gone through a lot of churn on the bottom half of the 40-man this winter, and they are still figuring things out on that front. As of now, there are still two more spots that need to be opened for Sawamura and Gonzalez. Presumably, one of those spots will be from Chris Sale, who will be able to be moved to the 60-day injured list later this week. That’s still one more spot, though. The last few openings that have needed to be created haven’t been obvious, and it gets even more difficult the more moves you make. Obviously, if they do bring in one more bat, you need to open up one more spot.
So yes, ideally you don’t want to go through so much of your depth. On the other hand, it’s not as though the Red Sox will have to let a superstar go. There are still options to be taken off the roster that, while not super easy, still aren’t likely to hurt you too much. Jeffrey Springs has been brought up the most, but remember they still need one for Gonzalez (assuming Sale’s IL shift opens up a spot for Sawamura). But even beyond Springs, the Red Sox could designate Marcus Walden for assignment or move Marcus Wilson for a player to be named later or lottery ticket type prospect, similar to what they did with Yoan Aybar and C.J. Chatham earlier in the offseason. Both Walden and Wilson have arguments to be kept, but are they strong enough counteract against the potential impact of another addition? I would argue no.
And then the final consideration would be a squeeze on the active roster. Similarly to the 40-man, the projected active roster has some decisions that will need to be made on the pitching side. As the roster is constructed right now, a three-man bench should be doable given the aforementioned versatility. That would, of course, allow for an extra pitcher. It is believed that the 13-pitcher maximum has been lifted again for the coming season.
Right now, the Red Sox probably have five locks, leaving Josh Taylor, Phillips Valdez, Garrett Whitlock and Austin Brice fighting for either three or four spots. Adding another position player ensures that only two of those pitchers get a spot. But that’s assuming everyone is healthy. The truth of the matter is that injuries will typically sort these kinds of situations out. Whether it’s a pitcher going down, making the decision easier, or even a position player getting hurt meaning the team can go back to the three-man bench idea, things never go 100 percent according to plan. And if they do, well, then they have more good players than they expected. Both Valdez and Taylor can be optioned, and again, injury will give them their chance sooner or later.
The Red Sox could make their current roster work as it stands right now given all of the versatility they have among their position players. But just because they can do something does not necessarily mean they should. There isn’t one specific need they have to be looking for, but they could use one more bat for their bench to add to their position player depth a little bit more. There are roster squeezes, on both the 40-man and active rosters, as well as financial considerations to make, but none of those are strong enough to convince me they wouldn’t be better off with one more addition to the bench.