The rain woke me out of restless sleep. I pick up my phone to see what time it is, hoping against all logic it is later than I know it is. 2:55 PM. Six hours until I need to wake up – my mind grumbles. I decide to turn off my notifications before trying to get back to slumber.
I notice a push notification from MLB. My heart sinks. I know before I even pull the notifications down with my index finger what it is going to say. I swipe away my notifications for my four emails and one missed call. The baseball notification is next, and the words read just as I expected:
My mind screams as the rain increases in intensity.
Workman’s demotion was expected – his three scoreless innings on Thursday notwithstanding. He was called up when Steven Wright hit the disabled list and was always expected to go back down when the Red Sox selected another starting pitcher from the PawSox. His one day extension was only due to yet another third baseman going down. Now on the reliever shuttle, Workman will return again at some point this season to Boston.
But Marrero’s recall was injury related… as the Red Sox lost yet another infielder to the disabled list.
First, it was super utility man Brock Holt on April 21. Holt had only participated in six games before being placed on the DL with vertigo, putting up an OPS well below his typical .700. While he has started rehabbing again – being utilized as a designated hitter in Portland on Saturday – the condition is one that could continue to hinder Holt throughout the season and his career. For the worst case scenario, look at Nick Esasky, whose career ended the year after his best season in 1989 due to the condition.
Then, just four days later, it was starting third baseman Pablo Sandoval, felled by a right knee strain. While Sandoval had been, admittedly, mediocre at both the plate (.213/.269/.377) and on the field (four errors), his presence in the lineup was not a true detriment. After a year on the disabled list, Sandoval had at least shown he was able to still perform passably at the MLB level. Furthermore, from the left-hand batter’s box, he had flashed power with three of his ten hits going out of the park. Of course, for reasons unknown to anyone but Panda, he also continued to hit right-handed and continued to fail miserably. While Sandoval has not yet started a rehab assignment, there is speculation that will be happening soon. Whether the Red Sox could convince him to give up switch hitting like he did in 2015 is still to be seen.
On Wednesday night, it was Marco Hernandez who went down with a left shoulder subluxation. Hernandez, who had assumed the role of super-infield sub from Holt was tasked with taking over at third after Sandoval went down. Defensively, Hernandez had a rough go, with five errors in his 25 chances (as compared to one error in 33 chances at short and second combined). For a utility man, Marco’s batting line of .276/.300/.328 was certainly not dreadful. But, even if Hernandez was not injured, his lack of power was always going to stick out as a starting third baseman; he has only hit 31 homers in the minors during his seven-year ascension up the ladder. Of Hernandez, Holt, and Sandoval; Marco appears to be furthest away from helping the Red Sox with surgery a possibility.
This left the team with Josh Rutledge to take over as the third baseman and Chase d’Arnaud to act as the utility man. Rutledge has been the definition of a fungible, just-below-average utility man since debuting with the Colorado Rockies in 2012. While this is his third season with the Red Sox, this is his first chance to truly take on a large role with the team, having seen action in 39 games in 2015 and 28 last year. However, in his final season with the Rockies in 2014, Rutledge played in 105 games with a line of .269/.323/.405. If Josh were to get anywhere near that level of offense this season, the Red Sox would be ecstatic. As for defense, much like Hernandez and Holt, Rutledge’s background is in the middle of the infield. He did see action in 17 games there last season, committing only a pair of errors – which he has already equaled in five games this year. Perhaps there truly is something in the water.
As for d’Arnaud, no one was quite certain that Chase is actually with the Red Sox. Despite being picked up off waivers on April 27 from the Atlanta Braves, he had yet to appear in a single game until yesterday (appearing as a pinch-runner in the ten-run 9th), despite the Red Sox starters falling by the wayside. While d’Arnaud has never been a major offensive spark – with a career OPS of .716 in the minors and .600 in the majors – he currently has the most actual practical experience at third base, with 100 games played at the position over his career.
So, on Friday, the Red Sox called up Deven Marrero to replace Marco Hernandez as the infield utility man – with d’Arnaud continuing to act in the bench warmer/mascot role that Steve Selsky had before his demotion. Marrero has a reputation as a defensive wizard, which the numbers – 63 total errors since his professional debut in 2012 with Lowell – do not contradict. However, his work at the minor league level has been almost exclusive to shortstop – with only five games at third in his minor league career and none this season. Last year, however, he did see action in Boston at third base for 19 games, committing a single error in his 27 chances.
But, it is near impossible to be just a defensive wizard in Major League Baseball at this time. Gone are the days of Ray Oyler (career MLB line – .175/.258/.251), Mark Belanger (career – .228/.300/.280), and Mario Mendoza (.215/.245/.262). Marrero’s AAA offense over the past three seasons has been uninspiring at .220/.271/.286 with 48 extra-base hits. But, this line obfuscates how offensively poor he has been of late. In his first AAA season, Deven put up a robust .660 OPS – not great but acceptable for a future as a utility infielder. However, last season, he was the worst offensive player in professional baseball. In 96 games in Pawtucket, Marrero batted a woeful .198/.245/.242 with 13 extra-base hits. Which is still better than the 1-for-12 with two walks he recorded with Boston. He has done a little worse for the PawSox this season, with a .169/.178/.211 line in 72 plate appearances. And yet, on Sunday, he became the fifth Boston player to start a game at third this season. Predictably, he went 0-for-5.
Were there other options? Not within the confines of the 40-man roster, with only Blake Swihart and Steve Selsky as the other offensive options on the list. Swihart, who is currently on the DL, has never played third (or middle infield) as a professional and Selsky had never played anywhere other than the outfield or first until the Red Sox were forced to put him out there when Pedroia was spiked by Machado. While the Red Sox could have dipped into their “break in case of emergency stash” by promoting Matt Dominguez from Pawtucket or Mike Olt from Portland, neither one is doing much offensively this season. Considering the Red Sox impending roster issues – with seven men currently on the DL – the lack of options for Dominguez and Olt, and the idea that either Holt and/or Sandoval could be back in the relative future, this is probably not the time to break that glass.
The Red Sox could have also promoted some prospects who have options left. Jantzen Witte, for example, is putting up an .894 OPS this season for Pawtucket while capably manning first, second, and third. However, his offense could be illusory – Jantzen batted just .258/.327/.361 for the PawSox in 2016. Tzu-Wei Lin and future Boston third baseman Rafael Devers have also started out 2017 strong, but are two steps below the majors in AA Portland. It is understandable why the Red Sox have chosen not to utilize these players as well – at this time.
Can Marrero help Boston? Given that almost half (12) of the Red Sox 26 errors have come from third base, perhaps worrying about offense from the position should not be a major concern at this point. The numbers certainly suggest that Deven will be a major defensive upgrade over everyone who has played the position thus far this season. On the other hand, the Red Sox are 7th in runs scored in the American League and tied for last in home runs – with the lack of power being the primary factor in the lack of runs as Boston ranks second in batting average and third in on base percentage. It would be a miracle if Marrero could help in that regard.
For Red Sox fans, it might be time to clasp their hands together and start praying.