The Boston Red Sox are just one game below .500 after their 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies today. The past 10 games, the Red Sox have gone 8-2 and things are finally starting to click for them. Today’s starter Josh Beckett has now been dominant in two straight outings, Clay Buchholz, who will get the ball tomorrow, has been much better as of late and Felix Doubront has solidified his spot in the rotation with a team leading 44 strikeouts and an above average 4.09 ERA. Additionally, since the beginning of May, the bullpen has been the best in the game. However, just as things are coming together, the Red Sox face a roster crunch that will demand some tough decisions.
The Boston Red Sox currently have eight players on the 60 day DL and five players on the 25 day DL. Among those players, there are some key stars like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis. There are also a few players like Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka that could be significant contributors if healthy, but there is not room on either the 40 man roster or the 25 man roster without some players being demoted and the Red Sox do not have many players with remaining options.
A few of the moves are fairly predictable. Che-Hsuan Lin, the defensively gifted centerfield prospect is certainly headed back for Pawtucket when the team needs to free up a spot. However, beyond Lin, there are not obvious candidates to be demoted once Youkilis, Matsuzaka and Cook are ready to return. That could happen as soon as this week as Youkilis is 2-5 in his rehab starts for Pawtucket and will be returning some time this week according to Bobby Valentine. Masuzaka is expected to make a rehab start on Tuesday, but that may be delayed. He cannot make another start after that date however, as there is a 30 day limit to minor league rehab assignments and Tuesday will mark the end of that period for Daisuke. Cook threw a bullpen session today and should also be make a rehab start within the week. He is on a minor league deal but he also has a June 1st opt out date.
The simple solution for Youkilis’ return would be to option Will Middlebrooks, one of the few Red Sox with options available back to Pawtucket. There has been some resistance to that in the media, but it is almost certainly the best option for both Middlebrooks and the team. However, there are far fewer options to help the Red Sox accommodate the pitchers coming back. No member of the starting rotation has options left, so even if the Red Sox wanted to option Felix Doubront or Daniel Bard, they would need to pass through waivers before they could join theAAA and that is simply not going to happen.
The same is true for almost every member of the bullpen. The Red Sox had to option Scott Atchison during the off-season, but the way he has pitched lately, he is almost certain to be claimed. Justin Thomas, who was easily one of the Red Sox worst relievers, was claimed on waivers by the New York Yankees after he was designated for assignment. The two members of the bullpen who can still be optioned are Rich Hill, Vicente Padilla and Andrew Miller, since all are on minor league deals. However, Padilla and Miller have been two of the most important relievers in the bullpen since the unit turned itself around and even if Daniel Bard were placed back in the bullpen, they would deserve to stay. Hill could be optioned but he may be better than the other available lefty, If the Red Sox are going to find a place for Cook or Matsuzaka, they are going to loss a player like Matt Albers or Franklin Morales. The situation is further complicated by the presence of some very capable relievers in Junichi Tazawa, Clayton Mortensen and Mark Melancon.
With the coming roster crunch, the Red Sox may become active on the trade market. Though Kevin Youkilis is the big name there, dealing a player like Hill, Morales or Padilla may be more realistic. The Red Sox added a great deal of pitching depth this off-season and that strategy is one of the reasons they have been able to turn their bullpen around, but it has also led to a logjam on the roster sheet. This week is going to be the first of several weeks where the Red Sox will need to make some tough choices about who stays and who may need to go.