In Florida and Arizona, baseball players are knocking off the rust and preparing for the 2016 season. There are plenty of new and old players that fans are aware of, but there are quite a few unfamiliar faces. Lisa Carney introduces to the 2016 Boston Red Sox non-roster invitees.
In Who Is That Guy: The Peculiar Case of Non-Roster Invitees, we explained what a non-roster invitee is. In part two we’ll discuss the NRIs for the 2016 Boston Red Sox and identify those with a decent chance to break camp with the major-league team.
Hey, I Heard Of That Guy
Not every non-roster invitee is an obscure, big-number-wearing, total nobody. Some are established players looking to come back from injuries or subpar performances and show they can still hang in the Show. Carlos Marmol, Brennan Boesch and David Murphy all fit that bill for the Red Sox this year. Here’s a quick look at what each of them have accomplished in the past and hope to bring to the team in 2016.
Carlos Marmol (33 years old)
Marmol’s strongest years were as a Chicago Cub from 2007-2010. Injuries to Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster created opportunities that he seized, becoming a key high-leverage reliever for the team. First serving as a setup guy, he led the National League in 2008 with 30 holds, pitched in the 2008 All Star game, and between 2007-2009 continually found himself in the mix for the Cubs’ closer job. Marmol peaked in 2010, when, after finally being handed the coveted ninth-inning, he saved 38 games and featured a sweet, record-breaking 16.0 K/9. But reliever fortunes can be fickle, and in 2011, the only thing Marmol led the league in was blown saves. His increasingly wild tendencies led to a decline in velocity and performance, punctuated by the Cubs designating him for assignment him in June 2013. Since then, he’s kicked around a few teams and in limited major-league appearances has put up some fairly pedestrian numbers. It’s not likely that Marmol will see a return of his fastball’s velocity, so he’s going to have to dramatically improve his control to have any success. His most realistic hope is to stick with the team in an early-innings, low-leverage bullpen role.
Brennan Boesch (30 years old)
Boesch broke into the majors with the Detroit Tigers in 2010 and immediately established himself as a decent-hitting right fielder with a bit of pop, leading all rookies with 14 home runs and 67 RBIs, and finishing 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting. In 2011, he continued to put up steady offensive numbers, but his season ended with a hand injury and the following offseason was spent rehabbing. A subsequent slow start to 2012 led to uneven offensive production and the following offseason the Tigers signed Torii Hunter to be their new starting RF. Consequently, Boesch was released in March 2013. The Yankees picked him up and he proved to be a useful bench player in the Bronx for a year. But in 2014 and 2015 his numbers took a major plunge, and he has since been up and down from the minors with the Angels and Reds. On Boesch’s side is the fact that the Red Sox outfield is still in a state of flux. Mookie Betts is a lock, but the other spots are still question marks, making Boesch a potential option as a left-handed bat off the bench or a platoon partner with Chris Young. His competition will mainly come from another Red Sox non-roster invitee, old friend David Murphy.
David Murphy (34 years old)
Murphy has now experienced both the ultimate high and low for a player seeking employment with the Red Sox. In 2003, he was their first round draft pick. He joined the big-league team in 2006, but the hits were slow to come and in 2007 he was part of the trade package that brought reliever Eric Gagne from the Texas Rangers to bolster Boston’s bullpen for a championship run. The move to Arlington revitalized Murphy’s career and; by 2008 he was seeing regular playing time. The following years, from 2008-2012, he remained a productive piece in the perennially playoff-bound Rangers’ lineup. Age and luck have treated him more poorly since then, and after bouncing around a bit, he now finds himself in the humble position of non-roster invitee for the 2016 Red Sox. Murphy sports a March 27 opt-out clause, but there’s a chance he could snag himself a spot as a left-handed bat off the bench or as a platoon partner for Chris Young.
Oh Yeah, I Remember Him
Four of this year’s non-roster invitees will look sort of familiar to anyone who followed Red Sox baseball last season. Sandy Leon (26 years old) was acquired from the Washington Nationals on March 30 when Christian Vazquez went down with a season-ending injury to his throwing arm. As the year went on, the Red Sox catching situation got crowded and the light-hitting Leon found himself stashed in Triple-A as organizational depth. He most likely will serve the same role this year.
Josh Rutledge (26 years old) appeared in 39 games (26 at second for the injured Dustin Pedroia) after being acquired for Shane Victorino. Rutledge was no Laser Show but managed a respectable .284/.333/.338 with an OPS+ of 82, and finds himself in the mix for a utility role.
When the Red Sox acquired Anthony Varvaro (31 years old) during the 2014 offseason, there was hope that he would be a solid addition to the worm-burning bullpen that Ben Cherington was building. During his time in Atlanta he had put up consistent numbers, so it seemed odd when he struggled coming out of spring training. The Sox didn’t wait for him to regroup and released him on April 29, 2015. He was scooped up by the Cubs but his struggles continued. Eventually an MRI revealed a torn flexor tendon in his throwing arm, and Varvaro’s 2015 concluded under the knife. If he has sufficiently recovered, he could again be seen as a solid addition to the Red Sox bullpen. However, he is in possession of an opt-out clause and so is unlikely to accept a minor league assignment.
Way back in 2014, when the Red Sox playoff hopes were crushed quite early on, fans turned their attention to the trade deadline and impending fire sale. Pitcher John Lackey was shipped off to St. Louis while pitcher Joe Kelly and 1B/OF Allen Craig (31 years old) came to Boston. From 2011-2013, Craig was one of baseball’s top hitters. A Lisfranc injury interrupted his 2013 season and his offensive numbers have yet to return to pre-injury levels. Could time to heal and adjust allow Craig to return to his hit-making ways, or is he forever a shell of the hitter he was? Most likely, Craig begins 2016 in Triple-A as organizational depth.
Looking Forward To Seeing More Of You
As you learned in Part One, non-roster invitee spots aren’t just for the resurrected and recovered. In 2016, the Red Sox welcome four of their minor leaguers to camp. Sam Travis (22 years old) was drafted by the Red Sox in 2014 and all he’s done in two minor league seasons is hit to the tune of a .310 BA, .371 OBP, and an OPS of .828. Currently listed as a top-10 farm system prospect, he most likely won’t break camp with the Sox, but chances are even the most casual fan will know his name by the end of this season.
William Cuevas (25 years old) may be nearing the end of prospect status, but there’s no denying the numbers that mark his potential to contribute soon. In seven minor-league seasons, he sports a 1.192 WHIP and a respectable 7.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. 2015 was a strong year for him as he made the Eastern League All-Star team, earned a promotion to Triple-A and achieved personal bests in wins (11) and strikeouts (128).
On the lower reaches of prospect rankings are Dan Butler (29 years old), who will be stashed in AAA to serve as an emergency catcher, and Kyle Martin (25 years old), who projects as a mid-level bullpen arm. However, given their ages, inability to-date to stick in the majors, and minor league free agency on their horizon, these players are on the edge of becoming journeymen.
Ummm- Who Are You?
True to the tradition of ball players constantly in the hunt for a job, the 2016 Red Sox have 3B Chris Dominguez (29 years old), RHP Roman Mendez (25 years old), RHP Sean O’Sullivan (28 years old), LHP Danny Rosenbaum (28 years old), C Ali Solis (28 years old) and OF Ryan LaMarre (27 years old) in camp. You’ll see them float in and out of spring training games, mostly serving as fillers, and any one of these guys could be cut by the time you read this story. However, when the big league team calls and says, “We got a spot in camp for ya,” you pack your bags and go. It may seem a bit ghoulish to go to work every day hoping an injury or decline in another player leads you back to steady work, but such is the life of the game’s “temp workers.”
And hey, it’s baseball, and Spring Hopes Eternal. And just like every team believes that this is their year, every player believes that this is his job.
Lisa Carney has written about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Pedro Martinez, and the Goose Gossage tirade.
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