The Boston Red Sox are about to face an impending roster crunch. With Pablo Sandoval, Brock Holt, and Eduardo Rodriguez all undergoing rehab stints in Pawtucket, their eventual (or potential) returns should put some players in Boston on notice. Who is in danger of losing their position and returning to AAA?
A Note about Rehab Assignments
A player can be assigned to the minor leagues for a rehab assignment which is not to exceed 20 days for position players and 30 days for pitchers. A player who has spent sixty days on the MLB DL may have his rehab assignment renewed once, which means that Brock Holt could, in theory, rehab into August with Pawtucket.
Sandoval started his rehab clock on June 27 in Pawtucket. His last possible day in Rhode Island on this rehab would be Sunday, July 16.
Holt began his rehab on July 1, which would mean a conventional 20-day stint would end on July 20. However, because he has been on the disabled list for over 60 days, his stint could be extended until August 9.
Rodriguez pitched his first rehab start for Portland on June 29. With the 30 days allocated for pitchers, his last possible day on rehab would be July 28.
Although Rodriguez’s stint could, theoretically, be the longest – unless he suffers another subluxation of the knee – he will more than likely return to the Red Sox after the All-Star break. His return could trigger a number of events, the only one that is relatively certain is removing Doug Fister from the starting rotation.
There are four scenarios for the Red Sox to consider when Rodriguez returns:
- Waive Fister. He gave you three starts (14 ⅔ innings, 6.14 ERA), and he has displayed a sharp decline over the previous two seasons. However, his limited time as a reliever with Washington in 2015 was decent (2.12 ERA, 1.294 WHIP in 10 games), which may be reason enough for Boston to shift him to the bullpen.
- Demote Robby Scott to Pawtucket. Of the seven current relievers, only Scott seems like a candidate to be sent to Pawtucket. Scott has been effective in his 36 relief appearances, but he has options and is less valuable than the other two bullpen pitchers with options; Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly.
- Trade/Waive Blaine Boyer or Fernando Abad. Both have been better than anyone could have expected. Abad is having his best season since 2014. Boyer was picked up off of Atlanta’s scrap heap earlier in the season, and has been an effective eater of largely low-stress innings.
- Temporarily roll with an eight-man bullpen and demote first baseman Sam Travis to the minors. While Travis has certainly shown he can be effective in the majors (.275/.341/.375 in 15 games), he is not going to see a lot of playing time throughout the rest of the season as long as Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez are healthy.
For the purpose of this exercise, we will assume Boston goes with the path of least resistance and ships Travis back to Pawtucket.
Which brings us to the continuing saga of third base. While the Red Sox could decide to send Panda out to pasture with a parting gift of some bamboo shoots, for the purpose of this article, we are going to assume that Sandoval is given one more go-around at third. We will further assume that Brock Holt shows himself to be symptom-free from vertigo, and is also brought back up to be the jack of everything. There are problems with both assumptions, of course. Though Pablo has hit .246/.281/.354 in his current rehab stint and hasn’t committed any errors, his ability to hit left-handed pitching since coming to Boston has been non-existent. Holt has only played once in the infield in his current rehab appearance and can not be considered a solution at the hot corner until he plays in back-to-back games in the field. And, since he is on the 60-Day DL, someone will need to be bumped off the 40-man roster.
If both players were to receive the call and the Red Sox continued to go with an eight-man bullpen, Boston would be forced to send both Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero back to the minors. Given Pablo’s problems and Holt’s uncertainty, this option seems particularly unwise. Boston will have to make a decision to cull the pen. However, one of Lin and Marrero will also have to ride the PawSox shuttle.
Deven Marrero is a fine defender but an atrocious hitter. However, he may be the perfect platoon partner for Pablo. While Sandoval can not hit lefties, Marrero has a career MLB average of .254/.282/.463 against them; this season he is batting .361/.385/.750 against southpaws, with eight of his ten extra-base hits coming against them. Meanwhile, Pablo is semi-competent against righties (.228/.287/.405) whom Marrero can’t touch. However, Marrero’s handling of portsiders in MLB may well be an illusion. Last season in Pawtucket, he had a .522 OPS against left-handers and in 2015 with the PawsSox, he batted a measly .248/.295/.287 against them.
On the other hand, Tzu-Wei Lin turned a corner on his career this season in AA Portland, and he hasn’t lost a step since coming to Boston. In his first 12 MLB contests, Lin is batting .310/.429/.448 after putting up an .870 OPS for the Sea Dogs. He has also ably handled second, third, and shortstop with Boston, converting all his chances. This season in AA, Lin hit slightly better against lefties than righties. In general, his minor league splits have been relatively neutral, showing similar ability to hit lefties and righties.
The Red Sox decision will not be an easy one. However, if they give Pablo a go, Marrero will likely stay up to be the platoon partner with great hope that Deven’s ability to mash lefties is not just a mirage. The platoon would be one bizarre mashup of mediocrity, but that may be enough to bring the Sox across the finish line.
However, there is still time before a decision must be made. Lin has the opportunity to make this discussion moot by continuing to hit as he has all season. If he does, It might be Sandoval who is let go, opening up the 40-man roster position for Holt to step into. That would be serendipitous.