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The Boston Red Sox are currently facing a good problem to have. The team recently activated starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz, and fellow key contributors Dustin Pedroia, Steven Wright, Bobby Poyner and Xander Bogaerts aren’t far behind. However, just about every player on the 25-man roster has been playing great baseball, and the Red Sox will have to make space for the players coming back. So, what happen with the Red Sox roster spots? Let’s take a look at some of their options.
The limited Red Sox roster spots
Roster Spot #1: Poyner’s return
Poyner suffered a minor hamstring strain, but is already well on his way to returning to the major league roster. He made a 19-pitch rehab start in AA Portland, and reportedly looked strong. He should be expected back at any moment, and the Red Sox will have a difficult decision to make.
Currently, only two bullpen pieces have minor league options remaining: Poyner himself and Hector Velazquez. While the easiest decision would be to send one of those two to the minors, both have made a strong case that they belong in the majors.
Outside of closer Craig Kimbrel, Poyner has been arguably the most consistent arm in the bullpen. A rare lefty reliever capable of getting both lefties and righties out, manager Alex Cora trusted Poyner in several high leverage situations. Poyner allowed just one run in five innings before suffering a hamstring injury against the Yankees. Poyner went multiple innings in three of his six appearances, and he likely performed well enough to secure himself a spot on the major league roster.
If not Poyner, then who?
Velazquez is a trickier proposition. The former Mexican league star has performed admirably in the starting rotation but is in something of limbo now that the rotation is healthy. He’s never been a bullpen arm, and there’s a strong argument to be made that he should stay on a starters schedule, should the depth be tested again. In that sense, sending him down to the minors makes sense.
However, he’s also proven to be better than a minor league pitcher. The bullpen is currently the weakest link on the roster, and Velazquez makes the bullpen better. However, keeping him means the Sox would have to DFA one of their other roster members. Should that happen, the most likely candidate to get axed is Heath Hembree. Hembree is nothing special as a reliever, and is the most likely candidate to clear waivers.
Ultimately, the Red Sox are most likely to cut Hembree loose. While they risk losing Hembree to another roster, the team just can’t afford to lose take Velazquez off the major league roster. He’s great in high-leverage situations, and is the top long option, should one of the starters not go deep into the game.
Roster Spot #2: Bogaerts return
Bogaerts will likely be the second name to return from the injury list. He’s already taking batting practice before games and could be ready as soon as April 24th against the Toronto Blue Jays (although having his first series back be played on turf seems like a bad idea). He ran the bases prior to Friday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, which is typically the last step before getting activated.
This move is the easiest to make, as the obvious choice would be to send utility infielder Tzu-Wei Lin down to Pawtucket. Lin’s performed well in Bogaerts absence, but he’s clearly the last man on the bench. The only reason he’s even on the major league club in the first place is because of Bogaerts injury.
That’s not to say Lin’s been a liability – far from it. Lin’s arguably the best defensive shortstop on the roster – Bogaerts included, and he brings a solid bat off of the bench. Granted, Lin has a very small major league sample size, but his bat has been a welcome addition to the lineup. In 19 plate appearances, Lin has posted a .375/.500/.974 slash line while walking three times. Obviously, that’s not sustainable, but he’s certainly showed promise between this years call up and 2017.
The dark horse option the Sox could choose is to send Brock Holt down to Pawtucket to keep Lin. However, that seems highly unlikely. For one, Holt’s above Lin on the depth chart. Since Bogaerts injury, Holt has been the primary starter, while Lin primarily served as Holt’s backup. While Holt isn’t as good defensively as Lin, he offers more positional versatility and a slightly better bat when he’s going strong.
Roster Spot #3: Dustin Pedrioa
The Red Sox still have some time before they need to worry about Pedroia and Wright coming back. While Bogaerts and Poyner seem ready to join the team any minute now, Pedroia and Wright are a little further away. Both are anticipated to return in early to mid-May, so there’s plenty of time for other injuries to strike.
However, for the sake of this exercise, let’s say that no injuries happen and the Red Sox need to make difficult decisions. Frankly, the team could go in several different directions. As already mentioned, they could send Holt down for one roster spot. However, that would only leave Eduardo Nunez for infield depth, which is dangerous considering his injury history. That being said, demoting Holt is still the easiest move to make, and will likely happen.
Roster Spot #4: Steven Wright
Wright is a more difficult situation. Let’s assume that the Sox released Hembree to make room for Poyner, so in this scenario Poyner and Velazquez are the only bullpen arms with options. Wright serves a similar role to Velazquez, and the Sox could choose to send Velazquez to Pawtucket, and let Wright serve as the long arm.
However, Wright is anything but a sure bet. Outside of the first half of 2016, he’s been highly inconsistent in his major league career. In the same vein, he was one of the top arms in baseball for the opening half of 2016, earning a spot on the All-Star team. Frankly, there’s no way to tell which Wright the Red Sox will get.
Chances are that one of the bullpen arms will suffer an “injury” that puts them on the 10-day disabled list. With this 10-day window, Wright will essentially audition for a job. If he can perform close to his All-Star 2016 self, then he gets the spot. However, should he struggle and look like his 2017 self, the Sox could just let him go.
The dark horse option: Trade Swihart
Of course, there is another option for the Red Sox to open up a roster space. Blake Swihart has shown that he’s more than capable of being a major league caliber ballplayer, but he’s having trouble getting onto the field. A logjam at outfield and first base has turned the talented player into little more than a luxury. Frankly, his talent is rotting away on the bench.
Alex Cora has stated that he wants to find playing time for Swihart, but that may be difficult to do. Other teams know how talented he is, and would likely be willing to give up a somewhat valuable asset for his services. If the Red Sox acquire a prospect, then it will also serve the purpose of opening up a roster spot.
However, this path should be avoided at all costs. Swihart is an incredibly talented player, and it wasn’t that long ago that he was considered the Sox top prospect. While he may not possess the defensive prowess to be a major league catcher, he certainly has the bat to be a major leaguer. Letting go of young, affordable major league talent immediately ready to contribute is typically a bad decision. Unless another offer blow the Sox away, they should hold onto Swihart as long as they can. It’s much better to risk losing Hembree instead of losing Swihart and getting a lower level prospect in exchange.