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Red Sox face a busy stretch for roster decisions

11.20.12 at 3:10 pm ET
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Allen Webster is a lock to be added to the Red Sox 40-man roster on Tuesday. (AP)

Tuesday marks a hectic day in the offseason. Teams have until midnight to add players to the 40-man roster for the purpose of protecting them from next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Players who were signed at age 18 or younger and have played five professional seasons, as well as players who were signed at 19 or older with four or more professional seasons, are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft if they are not members of the 40-man roster. However, players selected in the Rule 5 draft must remain on a major league roster all season or else they have to be offered back to their original team.

As discussed late in the season, the Sox have a number of candidates for potential addition to their 40-man roster. (Since the end of the season, the Sox elected not to add right-handed reliever Michael Olmsted to the 40-man roster, something that resulted in the big right-hander signing with the Brewers, who did have a 40-man spot for him.) That, in turn, creates a potential roster crunch today, given that the team’s 40-man roster currently has 39 members.

There’s a confluence of three things that have the Sox in a complicated position with regards to roster management:

1) The team has a number of players whom it would like to retain for depth.

2) The team has a very crowded 40-man roster, with all but one spot currently occupied. By contrast, the Braves entered today with only 31 spots filled, thus allowing them to add five players to the 40-man while preserving plenty of flexibility.

3) The team has a number of major league needs, so the necessity of having available spots on the 40-man is more acute than is usually the case.

What does all of that mean? The Sox will be adding and removing a lot of players from their 40-man roster in the next couple of weeks, starting with today’s decisions about whom to protect from the Rule 5 draft. For what it’s worth, indications are that the Sox do not have any trades in the works today to clear 40-man roster spots.

First, a look at candidates to be added to the 40-man roster:

RHP Allen Webster — Acquired from the Dodgers in the August blockbuster, a case can be made that Webster is the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox’ system. One talent evaluator suggested his floor is that of a late-innings reliever, and that his ceiling — thanks to a mid-90s power sinker that gets big swing-and-miss and groundball rates — could be that of Kevin Brown. He’s the certainty to be added.

RHP Alex Wilson — The 25-year-old right-hander looks like a potential late-innings fixture for the Red Sox in years to come. His transition from the rotation to the bullpen in Pawtucket this year proved a bit more deliberate than anticipated, but in the playoffs, he was overpowering, attacking the strike zone with his mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider while retiring virtually everyone he faced. Given that he’s spent more than a year in Triple-A, a team wouldn’t hesitate to grab him in the Rule 5 and keep him in the majors for all of 2013. He’s nearly certain to be protected.

C Christian Vazquez — The 2008 ninth-rounder out of Puerto Rico may be the best defensive catcher in the Red Sox’ system — left-hander Rich Hill was extremely impressed when working with him at the start of the year in High-A Salem. Vazquez also has some interesting offensive tools. He slammed 18 homers in 105 games in Greenville in 2011, and after a poor first half (.223/.308/.293/.601) to start this year in Salem, he enjoyed a ridiculous stretch (.343/.448/.581/1.029) in 29 games in the second half to earn a promotion to Portland.

Is Vazquez major league-ready? Probably not. He hit .205/.280/.260/.541 (with eight walks and nine strikeouts) in 20 games at the end of the year in Double-A Portland. But he’s got a pretty interesting ceiling as a catcher, to the point where a team might take a flyer on him in the Rule 5 draft and let him serve an apprenticeship at the big league level. The Sox would be loathe to leave him unprotected if they think there’s a decent shot that they could lose him for $50,000.

Here was a scout’s take on Vazquez based on his look at the 21-year-old in the Arizona Fall League, and whether a team would take him in the Rule 5:

“If they don’t protect him [from the Rule 5 draft this year by putting him on the 40-man roster], you never know with catching. He’s still a ways away [having made it as far as Double-A only at the end of the season]. Not too many clubs carry three catchers on their rosters. It’s hard to carry three catchers, especially with one coming out of A-Ball. Nationals did it a few years ago with Jesus Flores and it worked out for them, but it’s hard to say [if he'd be taken]. It only takes one club, and you’d like to have him, but I think it would be tough to take the kid and have him stick [in the majors for the full year to avoid having to return him to the Sox].”

RHP Josh Fields — The 2008 first-rounder seemed like little more than a throw-in at the time that the Mariners included him, along with Erik Bedard, in a trade deadline swap that saw the Sox part with four minor leaguers. But Fields enjoyed a breakthrough with his command this year, dominating in a year-end spell in Pawtucket (19 strikeouts, 2 walks, 0.00 ERA in 13 2/3 innings) to put himself back on the prospect radar.

It is fair to wonder whether his breakthrough in his age 26 season (Fields turned 27 in August) is sustainable, but given what he did this year, someone likely would take a shot with him rather than spending millions on a multi-year deal for a middle reliever. Still, Fields has struggled thus far in the Dominican Winter League, allowing eight runs in six innings while punching out eight and walking seven, so it remains to be seen whether he would stick with another team if taken in the Rule 5.

C Dan Butler — When Butler stuck in big league camp this past spring training longer than Luis Exposito, it was pretty clear that the once-undrafted catcher out of the University of Arizona (where he was a backup) had made a pretty strong case for himself in the Red Sox system. The 25-year-old profiles as a likely big league backup, but after a year in which he hit .247/.342/.403/.746 while demonstrating his characteristic strong defense, he’d almost surely be snapped up if exposed to the Rule 5 draft, and he profiles as a player who could stick on a roster for a full year.

The acquisition of David Ross and presence of Vazquez, however, means that the Sox face some tough calls. It’s hard to imagine them carrying five catchers on the 40-man roster. That, in turn, makes Butler and Vazquez interesting calls.

RHP Steven Wright – Though 28, Wright’s relatively recent commitment to the knuckleball put him back on a prospect path and led the Sox to trade Lars Anderson to the Indians in order to acquire him at the trade deadline. Wright went 10-7 with a 2.54 ERA in 25 starts this year with Double-A Akron and (after the trade) Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. He walked a lot of guys (69 in 141 2/3 innings) but opponents simply didn’t hit against him.

Knuckleballers are among the most difficult class of players to project based on minor league performance. Still, given his success with his new style of pitching this year and the possibility that he could offer starting depth to a big league team and has three options remaining, the Sox were leaning towards adding him to the 40-man earlier this offseason. He’s made two starts in the Dominican Winter League, with a 2.25 ERA, 12 strikeouts and one walk in 12 innings.

OF Jeremy Hazelbaker – In the last three years, Hazelbaker has averaged 16 homers and 49 steals with an OPS in excess of .800 every year. He strikes out a lot and actually saw his on-base percentage slide backwards in Double-A Portland this year (from .350 in 90 games at that level in 2011 to .338 in 114 games there in 2012), but he’s got the power and speed combination to tantalize a team in the Rule 5 draft. Those tools would make him likely to get taken in the Rule 5 draft, even if the holes in his swing suggest that he might not be likely to stick. He played eight games in the Mexican Winter League, hitting .261/.346/.565/.911 with a pair of homers.

WHO COULD GO? (INCLUDING EXPLANATIONS OF SOME WHO WON’T)

That’s seven potential players to add with just one roster spot. Moreover, the Sox will need even more roster spots given that they are looking outside the organization for a starting pitcher, two corner outfielders, a first baseman and perhaps a starting shortstop for next year. The consequences are two-fold:

1) The Sox won’t be able to protect all of their potential Rule 5 selections. The team must reconcile itself to the possibility of losing players whom it views as likely to have big league futures, much as proved the case with Olmsted. That roster crunch could force the Sox, for instance, to leave a Vazquez or Butler or Fields unprotected in hopes that he wouldn’t be able to stick in the big league all year.

2) It means that the Sox will have to shed a number of players on their 40-man roster, whether to protect players from the Rule 5 draft or to open up spots for players whom they’ll add through free agent signings or trades.

So, who might be vulnerable as the Sox look to clean up their 40-man roster? Primarily, the Sox might look to clear roster space through their relievers. The team has 15 pitchers who served primarily as relievers on their 40-man roster right now. Here’s a look at some players whom the Sox might try to send to remove from the 40-man roster via trade or by either trying to get them through outright waivers or designating them for assignment.

RHP Alfredo Aceves — He won’t be moved just for the sake of creating a roster spot. Aceves maintains value, so if he’s traded, it will be because of what comes in return, rather than the possibility of liberating a spot to protect a minor leaguer from the Rule 5. Sox manager John Farrell said on WEEI recently that the team plans to “exhaust every avenue” to see if it can retain the rubber-armed reliever with a starter’s arsenal, despite the fact that he was suspended late in the year for ripping off his jersey in the bullpen and subsequently got into a dugout dispute with Dustin Pedroia.

“I can tell you from across the field this is a very, very good pitcher. He’s got some abilities about him, particularly resilience and how often he can pitch and to the extent he can pitch,” said Farrell. “Those are the things you just don’t find. Having a development background you’re always going to look at a player and say, ‘How can we or how can I have a positive impact?’ Whether that’s holding him accountable, or whether it’s communicating consistently with him, those are the types of questions I’m interested in finding out about because you don’t come across a guy like this on any sort of regularity. Before any drastic decision is made on him I think we’re going to exhaust every avenue as it relates to Alfredo.”

RHP Scott Atchison — Atchison, 36, had a terrific year, with a 1.58 ERA, 36 strikeouts and just nine walks in 51 1/3 innings. He did miss much of the second half due to tearing in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow, a condition that didn’t require surgery but that makes it fair to wonder whether the team might either trade the arbitration-eligible reliever or, as it did last year, non-tender him and try to re-sign him to a minor league deal.

RHP Pedro Beato — The 26-year-old former first-rounder got a brief look with the Sox (4 games, 4 runs, 7 2/3 innings, 7 strikeouts, 3 walks) at the end of the year after Boston got him from the Mets in exchange for Kelly Shoppach. The Mets got some value out of the right-hander when they claimed him in the Rule 5 draft in 2011, but his standing in the organization’s eyes fell to the point where there was little hesitation in giving him up in August. He does have a pair of options remaining, but he’s a likely candidate for removal from the roster.

RHP David Carpenter — The Sox got Carpenter from the Blue Jays as part of the compensation agreement involving manager John Farrell and shortstop Mike Aviles. However, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said that Carpenter, who has one option remaining, would have been removed from Toronto’s 40-man roster, and there’s a reasonable chance that the same thing could happen with the Sox. In 67 big league appearances with the Astros and Blue Jays, Carpenter is 1-5 with a 5.70 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 29 walks in 60 innings.

UT Ivan De Jesus Jr. — Acquired from the Dodgers in the August blockbuster trade, De Jesus Jr. played in eight games, batted eight times and struck out in six of those for the Sox. He has some defensive versatility, though he best profiles as a second baseman. Like Pedro Ciriaco, he’s out of options, and so despite a minor league track record that suggests an ability to work the count and get on base, he might represent a roster redundancy that the Sox can’t afford to carry.

LHP Rich HillAs Rob Bradford noted, the Red Sox have some left-handed surplus in their bullpen with the presence of Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller along with Hill, something that could leave the Sox in position to trade Hill. Hill had a 1.83 ERA in 19 2/3 innings with 21 strikeouts and 11 walks in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2012.

RHP Clayton Mortensen — The oft-optioned Mortensen impressed whilst shuttling back and forth in what seemed like a constant loop between Pawtucket and Boston in 2012. He had a 3.21 ERA, 41 strikeouts and 19 walks in 41 innings, with a dozen relief outings of at least two innings and six outings of three or more innings. Though he’s now out of options, he showed enough potential that the Sox aren’t going to risk losing him for nothing by removing him from the 40-man roster.

OF Daniel Nava — Nava still has options, and shows the ability to get on base against big-league pitching at an above-average rate (.352 OBP in 2012 despite struggling with wrist and thumb injuries). He also showed considerable improvement as a defensive outfielder in 2012. It’s hard to see him clearing waivers if the Sox wanted to try to keep him as a minor league outfield option while removing him from the 40-man roster; that being the case, he would seem an unlikely candidate for to be purged in a “roster cleanup” to create 40-man spots.

RHP Sandy Rosario — The Sox claimed Rosario off waivers from the Marlins early in the offseason. He’s given up 13 runs in 7 2/3 innings in the big leagues, but he showed a three-pitch mix (93-97 mph fastball and an inconsistent but interesting slider and changeup that flash plus potential) that suggest the potential for a quality middle reliever. In Triple-A this year, he had a 1.04 ERA, 24 strikeouts and zero unintentional walks in 26 innings. Still, while the Sox claimed him, given the need to create roster spots, the team might try to slip the right-hander (who has one option left) through outright waivers in hopes of having him as a minor league depth option.

RHP Zach Stewart — The 26-year-old Stewart got hammered in his two big league starts with the Sox, permitting 14 earned runs in just 5 2/3 innings. In 103 major league innings, he has a 6.82 ERA and has yielded a startling 25 homers. As a pitcher with an option left, the Sox could keep him as a rotation depth option, but given the number of spots that need to be freed up, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the right-hander (acquired in the deal with the White Sox for Kevin Youkilis) removed from the 40-man roster.

OF Ryan Sweeney — Sweeney started well and ended poorly for the Sox, who acquired him along with Andrew Bailey in a trade that sent Josh Reddick and prospects to Oakland last December. At his best, he’s a strong outfield defensive option who has the ability to get on base albeit with little power. But in 2012, his typical patience wasn’t much in evidence. He had a .303 OBP, and hit just .204 after a strong April. Given that he is strictly a platoon option, and that the Sox are searching for a pair of outfielders, he is a candidate to be non-tendered or traded.

3B Danny Valencia — The Sox got Valencia from the Twins in an August trade to shore up a position (third base) where their depth is lacking. Still, he’s coming off a dreadful year where he hit .188/.199/.299/.497 with just three walks in 161 plate appearances with the Twins and Red Sox, a performance that resulted in him spending most of the year in the minors. He has an option left, but even given that the Sox lack third base depth (behind Will Middlebrooks, the team’s only real upper levels option is Pedro Ciriaco, though Ivan De Jesus Jr. also has some experience at the position), his performance wasn’t necessarily one that will earn him a roster spot commitment.

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