One of the keys to success for any baseball team is overcoming attrition. The long season puts a strain on players and many do not make it without needing some time off. Many teams cope with this issue by using player options to send players to and from the minors to fill holes. Brandon Magee looks at how the Boston Red Sox use the PawSox shuttle to bolster their roster.
The distance from McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island to Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts is a shade under 49 miles. The road, however, looks very different depending on which way you are headed. Going north, the road is paved in gold, the realization that years of hard work have culminated in your dream coming true – playing in Major League Baseball. The road south is filled with potholes, the dream derailed, a minor leaguer once again.
Both roads have been traveled frequently this year. For some, like Allen Craig, he took the southern road and has yet to go back. Despite batting a respectable .281/.406/.388 for the PawSox, the Red Sox have looked outside of the organization (first to Carlos Peguero and then to Alejandro de Aza) for help with their outfield. For others, like Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez, the golden road was taken and they have avoided the dreaded trip back.
But for most, they travel both sides of the road. While the majority of the team’s minor league system serves one purpose, growth and development, AAA Pawtucket serves a dual purpose. While player development is still ongoing with the PawSox, the team also serves as an extended roster for the Boston Red Sox. Minor league options, where a player on the 40-man roster can be placed in the minors without being subjected to waivers, are utilized on a yearly basis. This means a player can be brought up and sent back to Pawtucket multiple times in a year, leading to constant change for the PawSox and constant travel for players.
This year, no one knows this more than Robbie Ross Jr. After beginning the season with Boston, he has ping-ponged back and forth I-95 with regularity. Ross was first optioned to Pawtucket on May 10th only to be brought back four days later when Justin Masterson was placed on the disabled list. Ross was then sent back to Pawtucket on May 23rd only to be recalled five days later with Daniel Nava being placed on the disabled list. A mere three days later, it was back down the southern road once again. Ross was brought back to Boston on June 3rd (as the 26th man during the Red Sox doubleheader) only to be sent back to Pawtucket the next day. Ross moved back to Boston one more time on June 15th. His next trip to Pawtucket will be his fifth time down I-95 this season:
While Ross is the gold standard this season, Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes are not far behind. Hembree started the season with Pawtucket, earning a one day call-up for Boston on April 26th. He was again promoted on May 23rd, only to be sent back to Pawtucket five days later. He earned his third trip to Boston on June 12th. On Saturday, Matt Barnes earned his third trip to Boston, after being demoted to Pawtucket two weeks earlier.
While pitchers have been making the majority of trips up and down the interstate offensive players have also ridden the shuttle multiple times. Travis Shaw recently made his third round-trip journey, joining Boston for his first extended major league stay on June 18th only to be optioned back to Pawtucket nine days later. At least he had a couple of days on this trip, the first two call-ups were for a single day. Jackie Bradley Jr. made his third trip to Boston last Thursday. But, with Shane Victorino in the midst of a rehab assignment, Bradley may be back on I-95 in the near future.
Sometimes, players chose to leave the friendly confines of Rhode Island on their own. Dana Eveland finally made it to Fenway this year – as a member of the Atlanta Braves. Eveland who was granted his release from the Red Sox organization on June 4th, signed with the Braves two days later, and made his debut for Atlanta on June 11th. Infielder Luis Jimenez, who spent a week in Boston before being outrighted to Pawtucket, was recently granted his release. Jimenez will be taking a much longer trip as he signed with the LG Twins of the Korean Baseball Organization.
The road from Pawtucket to Boston is not very long. And, yet, for the players that travel it, it may well be the most meaningful road they have ever taken. The final step in the journey to become a major league ballplayer or another step in the learning process. It all depends on the direction of travel.