The Boston Red Sox’s handful of moves Thursday didn’t include many head-turners, but they weren’t without significance.
On what should’ve been Opening Day (which obviously has been paused due to coronavirus concerns), Chaim Bloom sent down four relief pitchers: Colten Brewer, Chris Mazza, Jeffrey Springs and Matt Hall.
All four pitchers had been considered legitimate contenders to break camp on the big league roster, but each of them had minor league options remaining, so sending them down now gives Bloom a little more flexibility later in the season.
In the event teams aren’t allowed to carry extra players to begin the season whenever it resumes, they still have a few cuts to go. Teams are allowed to carry a maximum of 13 pitchers on the 26-man roster.
So, who’s left?
Let’s take a look at the state of the roster.
Locks: Matt Barnes, Nathan Eovaldi, Heath Hembree, Darwinzon Hernandez, Martin Perez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden, Ryan Weber, Brandon Workman
Near-locks: Ryan Braiser, Austin Brice, Brian Johnson
Injured list: Collin McHugh
Johnson is the only player here who isn’t on the 40-man roster, so someone would have to get booted to make room for him. But considering the dearth of starting pitching options the Red Sox have with Chris Sale out for the season, it’s almost a guarantee Johnson gets put back on the 40-man roster. The only other pitchers remaining in major league camp after the above mentioned pitchers are Domingo Tapia and Robinson Leyer, neither of who have pitched in the big leagues before.
A lot of this also is contingent on whether or not Collin McHugh is available — which would depend on when the season begins. Assuming he isn’t ready, then this seems like the group the Red Sox will roll with. But when he comes back, someone would have to get moved off the active roster.
There’s also the possibility that Bloom now goes out and acquires another pitcher through either free-agency or a trade. Maybe with the delay to the start of the season and the need for spring training to be continued once things are all clear, getting a free-agent arm becomes a bit more palatable. In such a case, Johnson probably would get sent to the minors.
If the Red Sox do carry 13 pitchers, the other 13 players likely would be:
Catcher: Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki
Infielders: Xander Bogaerts, Michael Chavis, Rafael Devers, Tzu-Wei Lin, Mitch Moreland, Jose Peraza, Jonathan Arauz
Outfielders: Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., J.D. Martinez, Kevin Pillar
Injured list: Alex Verdugo
There are only two question marks here: Jonathan Arauz and Jonathan Lucroy.
Arauz was a Rule 5 draft pick, and though he had some good moments in spring training, he was inconsistent and might not be ready to play in the big leagues (he’s never played above Double-A). But if he doesn’t make the big league roster, he would have to be offered back to the Houston Astros, the organization the Sox selected him from, so that might keep him on the roster.
Lucroy is on a minor league deal, but got a camp invite and did well with it. His productivity dipped in years past as he dealt with injuries, but his showing in spring training with the Red Sox was encouraging, to the degree it looked like he was finding his old form. But the Red Sox likely won’t carry three catchers, and Plawecki also had a nice camp.
This projection also operates under the impression Alex Verdugo isn’t ready. He’s been dealing with a back issue, which was going to delay his start of the season. But maybe by the time the season comes around, he will be good to go.
That would mean:
— Arauz gets bumped
— Martinez goes from being the DH who occasionally is the extra outfielder to just being the full-time DH à la David Ortiz.
— Kevin Pillar likely becomes the fourth infielder instead of the everyday right fielder. Verdugo would become the regular right fielder, with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and Andrew Benintendi in left.
Overall, there are still some moving pieces, especially since other additions from outside the organization could be made.
That said though, it has become a little more clear the group the Red Sox will trot out on Opening Day, whenever that may be.