This has been a strange beginning to the baseball season, which I suppose in itself isn’t strange considering the circumstances of last year that are surely affecting players right now. But a little more than a quarter of the way through the season, there really isn’t a runaway team in baseball. The White Sox are the only team in the game with a winning percentage over .600, and the Red Sox are tied for the second-best record in the American League. That is obviously very good to see, but there is also work to be done on this roster to shore things up and make things run a little more smoothly. They’re in a good spot, but they also want to be better and more consistent.
Coming up, the team is going to have a chance to do just that and make some changes on the roster. While the team has stayed really healthy to this point in the year, they do have a couple of players on the injured list who are getting ready to come back soon, and they’ve got some decisions to make. With the season being a little more than a quarter of the way through, we have hit something of a line of demarkation. When constructing a roster at the start of the season, teams will often keep an eye toward hoarding depth above all else, at times sacrificing talent to do so. As the year goes on, the hoarding of depth becomes less important than the depth. We aren’t at the point where teams stop caring about depth altogether, but putting the best players on the roster is becoming more important.
This is just something to keep in mind as three players are getting set to return from injuries. Those three players are Kiké Hernández, who is in the middle of a rehab stint; Christian Arroyo, who hasn’t yet started a rehab stint but whose injury shouldn’t keep him out too long; and Danny Santana, who hasn’t been in the majors yet but is at Triple-A and should get the call relatively soon. There’s also the Jarren Duran of it all, but while I think eh could come up now, it doesn’t appear that is in the plans so it’s not worth discussing in this context. The exact timelines here aren’t totally clear, but all three are close enough to return that it’s worth considering what will happen when they do come back.
We’ll start with Hernández, because he should be on the verge of a return as soon as Tuesday. As I said, he’s currently rehabbing and on Sunday he hit two home runs, so the timing looks all right. This is also the easiest decision to make in terms of counter-moves to get him back on the roster. Jonathan Araúz came up when Arroyo hit the IL, and he makes the most sense to go back down as soon as possible. It’s not quite a knock against Araúz, who does look like a future bench player, but he needs reps. He should be at Triple-A playing pretty much every day. Everyone benefits from this move, and it’s a no-brainer.
Things get a little more complicated after that. As I said, timelines are not clear but let’s say Santana is the next to come back, just because he is rehabbing and swinging a solid bat in the minors. There’s two ways to look at these questions: Through the lens of what I would do, and through the lens of what I believe the team will do. Let’s start with the former. Here, I would designate Austin Brice for assignment and use Santana to fill that spot. They need to make a move on the 40-man to get Santana up as it is, and Brice has been struggling. As I’ve made clear in this space time and again this year, I’m no fan of the three-man bench. Replacing a pitcher with Santana obviously resolves this, and the Red Sox really don’t lose anything with this move.
That leaves one more spot to take care of, and that’s with Arroyo. It’s not even clear whether or not he’ll need a rehab stint as this seems to be a short-term issue, but either way his return shouldn’t be more than a week or so in the future. To me, this comes down to a binary choice with either Franchy Cordero or Michael Chavis going down to Worcester. And if I were the one making the choice, it’d be Cordero going down. He has been hitting the ball a bit better of late, including a two-hit game on Saturday, but the results still aren’t there and he’s still striking out. Some time against minor-league pitching could do him a world of good, and the team should benefit with Chavis in his spot. It does leave the outfield a bit more shallow, but they’d still have four guys who can play out there regularly with Hernández, Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, and Marwin Gonzalez. Chavis can play there in a pinch as well, and while he’s far from a sure thing at the plate I’m more confident in him at the moment than Cordero.
So, to recap, if it were up to me I would just make three simple moves. Hernández would take the spot of Araúz. Santana would come up and form a four-man bench with Brice being designated for assignment and taken off the 40-man. And finally, Arroyo would come up with Cordero going down to get some reps at Triple-A.
That’s not necessarily what I think is going to happen, though. I don’t think the Red Sox have any intentions of getting rid of the 14-man pitching staff, which means that they either need to find a new way to make room on the 40-man for Santana or make a different series of moves. I think the latter will happen. I do think Brice being DFA’d for Santana makes the most sense, but I think that will be part of two moves with another pitcher — Eduard Bazardo, hopefully — coming up as well with Cordero or Chavis going down as well. So in the end, the same three guys who be coming up, along with someone like Bazardo, while Brice gets DFA’d and Araúz, Chavis, and Cordero all get optioned.
Whatever happens, the Red Sox have some decisions to make. Their stars have, for the most part, been getting the job done. It’s now about finding the right mix of depth to make the most of their bench.