An update to the Red Sox 40-man roster puzzle

It’s time to play armchair general manager again.

You are Ben Cherington, and in addition to determining the next Red Sox manager, you have decisions to make about the 40-man roster. Considering that there are prospects to add to that list to protect them from December’s Rule 5 Draft, and the 40-man roster is stocked, some players will have to be traded, non-tendered or released.

Players who are on the 60-day disabled list do not have to be placed on the 40-man roster during the regular season, but they must be put on that list in the off-season. That adds John Lackey, Franklin Morales and Ryan Sweeney.

Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Vicente Padilla, James Loney, Scott Podsednik, David Ortiz and Cody Ross are free agents. For the sake of this column, we will add Ortiz and Ross to the 40-man roster since it is highly probable that both players are brought back.

Here are the decisions facing Cherington for the 40-man roster in the off-season (and their 2013 salaries; and listed by position):

Starting Pitchers (9)

Jon Lester, LHSP, $11.63 million
Felix Doubront, LHSP, min
Drake Britton, LHSP, min
John Lackey, RHSP, $15.25 million
Clay Buchholz, RHSP, $5.50 million
Rubby De La Rosa, RHSP, min
Allen Webster, RHSP, min
Steven Wright, RHSP, min.
Stolmy Pimentel, RHSP, min.
Undoubtedly, Cherington will acquire a frontline starting pitcher this off-season. It could be Jake Peavy, whose $22 million option will be declined by the White Sox; or Dan Haren, whose option is likely to be declined by the Angels. It could happen via trade with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez being high on Boston’s list. Lester, Buchholz, Doubront and Lackey will likely compose four-fifths of the 2013 Red Sox rotation.

Webster and De La Rosa are the high-ceiling pitchers Boston received from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the “get out of salary jail mostly free” trade. Wright is the 28-year-old knuckleballer that the Red Sox acquired from Cleveland for Lars Anderson.

Relief Pitchers (12)

Andrew Bailey, RHRP, arb. eligible, $3.90 million in 2012
Daniel Bard, RHRP, arb. eligible, $1.61 million in 2012
Junichi Tazawa, RHRP, min
Mark Melancon, RHRP, min
Clayton Mortensen, RHRP, min
Chris Carpenter, RHRP, min
Alex Wilson, RHRP, min.
Scott Atchison, RHRP, arb. eligible, $510,000 in 2012
Franklin Morales, LHRP, arb, $850,000 in 2012
Craig Breslow, LHRP, arb. eligible, $1.80 million in 2012
Rich Hill, LHRP, arb. eligible, $730,000 in 2012
Andrew Miller, LHRP, arb. eligible, $1.04 million in 2012
Alfredo Aceves is not on this list because I think he will either be non-tendered or traded. Tazawa, Mortensen, Morales and Miller have emerged as reliable arms in 2012. Miller or Breslow could be a trade candidates because they are arbitration eligible and the Red Sox have Morales and Hill as lefties in the pen.

Carpenter, the hard-throwing righty that Boston received from the Cubs as compensation for Theo Epstein, has a strong chance of making the Red Sox bullpen out of spring training.

Melancon and Bard are guys who could be traded to free spots on the 40-man roster. Wilson is a live arm that must be placed on the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.

Catchers (3)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, arb. eligible, $2.50 million in 2012
Ryan Lavarnway, min.
Christian Vazquez, min.
Saltalamacchia and Lavarnway make a good platoon tandem since Saltalamacchia is a better hitter from the left side and Lavarnway has pop from the right side. He was named the International League Defensive Catcher of the Year by Baseball America based on a poll of IL managers.

The 22-year-old Vazquez must be placed on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He is regarded the best defensive catcher in the Red Sox farm system, belted 18 home runs at low Single-A Greenville in 2011 and batted .266 with seven home runs at advanced Single-A Salem this season before a late promotion to Double-A Portland. Good catchers are difficult to find, so the Red Sox will likely make room for Vazquez.

Infielders (9)

David Ortiz, DH/1B
Mauro Gomez, 1B/DH, min
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, $10 million
Mike Aviles, SS/IF, arb. eligible, $1.20 million in 2012
Jose Iglesias, SS, min
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, min
Danny Valencia, 3B, min
Pedro Ciriaco, IF, min
Ivan de Jesus, IF, min
Ciriaco and the recently acquired De Jesus give the Red Sox two quality utility infielders. Because of Ciriaco and De Jesus, and since he is arbitration eligible, Aviles could be traded or non-tendered. Scouts for several Major League teams like Gomez, and a Japanese team reportedly would like to sign him. He could be part of Boston’s 2013 Major League plans.

Outfielders (7)

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, arb. eligible, $8.05 million in 2012
Ryan Kalish, OF, min
Daniel Nava, OF, min
Jerry Sands, OF, min
Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF, min.
Ryan Sweeney, OF, arb. eligible, $1.75 million in 2012
Cody Ross, OF, free agent, $3 million in 2012
Like Aviles, it will be surprising if Sweeney returns to the Red Sox in 2013. There are too many other outfielders (who are either not on the 40-man roster but in the Red Sox farm system, or an outside acquisition) who can offer better production at an equal or more affordable salary (since Sweeney will get a raise).

The 25-year-old Hazelbaker was recently promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket and has a mix of power and speed. He must be placed on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Sands is a versatile left fielder/first baseman with power who the Red Sox will get after the season ends as part of the Dodgers trade.

Overall Assessment

That composes the initial 40-man roster heading into the winter meetings. Between now and then, there might be trades, there will likely be free agent signings and there will be players non-tendered and released.

There is speculation that the Red Sox could bring back Loney, who is a spray hitter and a solid defensive first baseman. Considering the Sox have Gomez, they could let Loney depart and sign Mike Napoli (who can also catch and DH) or Nick Swisher (who can also play right field).

Recent media reports indicate the Red Sox could trade pitching prospects to Kansas City for Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer.

Outfielders Che-Hsuan Lin, reliever Pedro Beato and starting pitcher Zach Stewart are current 40-man roster occupants who are still under team control but will likely be dropped.

Aviles, Sweeney, Saltalamacchia, Nava, Valencia, Pimentel, Atchison, Melancon and one of Miller and Breslow are expendable before or when 40-man roster space is needed because of free agent signings and trade acquisitions.

Forecasting the 40-man roster is not an exact science. Expect the Red Sox to make upgrades to the starting rotation, first base and right field. The team indicated that no player on the 40-man roster is untouchable when it dealt Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers just to free itself from his contract and the money owed to Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.

By Jeff Louderback
Saturday, 29 Sep 2012

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