As MLB rosters cut down Monday, Sox have big decisions to make

May 1 — As currently constructed, the Red Sox roster hasn’t gotten the job done.

Anyone who has been paying attention can see the Red Sox have problems, and if it seems like the whole lineup has been underperforming, you’re not imagining things. Entering Saturday, the Red Sox roster collectively ranked 20th in baseball with a -0.9 wins above average mark, and when looking only at non-pitchers Boston was third to last with a dismal -2.8 total.

It gets worse if you look position by position, as outside of shortstop, third base and pitcher the Red Sox have gotten average or worse production from every spot on the diamond. The club ranks bottom five at catcher, first base and second base, and also bottom 10 in all three outfield spots as well.

You don’t need to understand advanced metrics to know that’s bad, and for such a widespread problem there’s no easy fix. The club can’t stand by and do nothing though, and this week marks the first logical opportunity to shake things up.

As a result of the lockout-shortened spring training, MLB has allowed teams to carry an expanded active roster of 28 players through the month of April. The idea was that having extra bodies would help teams avoid burning out pitchers before they were regular season ready, and the extra bench player or two would also help keep position players fresh.

But effective Monday rosters will drop back down to 26, so clubs across baseball will have some decisions to make.

The Red Sox made their first move Friday, designating veteran first baseman Travis Shaw for assignment and calling up Franchy Cordero from Triple-A to take his place. That move won’t be as popular as promoting Triston Casas would have been, but despite his significant struggles with the Red Sox last year Cordero has played very well in Worcester and has earned a second chance.

Whether he makes a meaningful difference or is just here to keep the seat warm for Casas, Cordero won’t be enough to make a dent on his own. The Red Sox still have two cuts to make and two paths from which to choose, and which direction they go will largely determine how they construct their roster for the next month or so.

Path 1: Expanded bullpen, three-man bench: By carrying 12 position players and 14 pitchers, the club could continue to ease their pitchers into the season while counting on the offense to break out of their early season slump. And let’s be honest, the bench hasn’t given them much so far anyway.

If the Red Sox choose this path, they would need to cut one position player and one pitcher. Outfielder Jaylin Davis, newly called up from Triple-A after being claimed off waivers from San Francisco, would be the obvious choice from the bench. The Red Sox could stick with Kevin Plawecki as the backup catcher, Christian Arroyo as a right-handed reserve infielder and Cordero as a left-handed reserve first baseman and outfielder, and between those three they could cover pretty much any conceivable scenario.

Jonathan Araúz would also likely find himself in Worcester upon his return from the COVID-19 injured list in this case.

As for the pitcher, Kutter Crawford seems like the most likely option on paper. The rookie has given up seven earned runs over seven innings and allowed 17 baserunners over his five appearances so far, which obviously isn’t what you want. That being said, he also has some of the best stuff on the team and has been entrusted with a couple of high-leverage spots, so the club could also keep him around and send someone else down like Phillips Valdez or Hirokazu Sawamura, both of whom still have minor league options remaining.

Path 2: Regular bullpen, full bench: Eventually the Red Sox will probably need to get back to a 13 position player and 13 pitcher mix, so if the club feels it has enough pitching to get by then it might choose this option.

In this case the club could stick with the bench it has and presumably swap Jonathan Araúz in for Jaylin Davis once he’s back off the COVID-19 list, and instead the club would have to cut two pitchers. The three mentioned above would be the most likely candidates, and Austin Davis could be a possible cut as well if the Red Sox feel they have enough left-handers to work with between Jake Diekman, Matt Strahm and eventually Josh Taylor once he’s back from injury .

Crawford and Valdez might actually be helped in this scenario, because with fewer arms available guys who can pitch multiple innings will become more valuable. It will also be interesting to see how aggressively the Red Sox continue to use their strategy of piggybacking starters over the course of a single game, because as MassLive’s Chris Cotillo noted in a recent article, the Red Sox could take advantage of their three upcoming off days to use a four-man rotation and have both Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck pitch out of the bullpen for the next two and a half weeks.

If you’re counting on Whitlock, Houck, Hill or some other combination of short-inning starters to soak up the majority of the bullpen’s work two or three times a week, then maybe ripping off the band aid and dropping to 13 pitchers now is the move to make.

Regardless of the path they choose, the Red Sox have to hope finding the right mix of players will help unlock their potential in much the same way the Boston Celtics did this year after streamlining their roster at the trade deadline.

But if that doesn’t work and the Red Sox are still taking on water by early June, then much bigger structural changes could be on the horizon.

An encouraging sign for VerdugoAlex Verdugo has cooled off a bit since his scorching hot start, and entering the weekend he was batting .254 with a .705 OPS on the season. The Red Sox would surely like to see better from Verdugo, but the left fielder has shown encouraging improvement in one key area since the season began.

Entering Saturday Verdugo was batting .278 with a .333 on-base percentage on the season against lefties, a notable improvement from last year. In 2021 Verdugo only batted .228 with a .269 OBP against lefties, which was a concerning dip given that Verdugo had previously hit lefties just fine throughout his career.

The problem now is his splits seem to have flipped. Where last year Verdugo batted .321 against righties, he’s currently only batting .228 against them, which is one of the main reasons why his overall production is down. It’s still early and that’s drawn from an admitted small sample size, so there’s plenty of reason to expect Verdugo will turn things around. If he can do that while maintaining his early production against lefties, Verdugo could set himself up for significant success the rest of the way.

Readers: ‘We miss Don’

Recently we ran a column on the controversy surrounding Don Orsillo’s apparent snub ahead of Jerry Remy’s memorial ceremony, and boy did you all have some thoughts. The piece got by far the most response from any story I’ve written since joining the Red Sox beat last summer, and pretty much all of you said some variation of the same thing. “We miss Don.”

One reader in particular named Judy Berezansky offered some thoughts that I think effectively sum up how a lot of fans feel about the whole situation. Beyond just feeling disappointed in how the Remy ceremony was handled, she said it’s been difficult to move on from Orsillo’s departure and that the broadcasts have lost a certain spark that Don and Jerry used to provide.

“There was an actress visiting in their booth one night, I honestly can’t remember her name, and she said something that was so true it has stuck with me all these years. She said having Don and Jerry calling the games made even lousy. games entertaining, “Berezansky wrote. “Red Sox baseball isn’t what it used to be. It’s kind of like a television series that replaced the main characters and continued long past the time when it should have been canceled.”

Given how strongly fans feel even after seven years, this is a sentiment the Red Sox should take seriously.

Walter one to watch

The Red Sox have no shortage of pitching prospects who have gained some measure of fame within the fanbase over the past year or so. Jay Groome was a former first-round pick, Brayan Bello was last year’s Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year, Connor Seabold made a big league spot start last September, and goes on the list. Yet one lesser known name might be emerging as among the best of them all.

Brandon Walter has been outstanding to start the season, posting a 1.17 ERA over his first four starts while holding batters to a .169 average. The 25-year-old lefty, who was originally a 26th round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, has struck out 29 batters over his first 23 innings, and most impressively has yet to surrender a walk.

Yes, you read that right.

Walter’s performance hasn’t gone unnoticed, and late he’s begun to climb in the prospect rankings. MLB.com and SoxProspects.com both currently have him listed as No. 9 in the organization, and after coming out of nowhere to enjoy a strong 2021 at Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville he should only see his stock continue to rise as he dominates Double-A as well.

Whether or not he could potentially factor into the big league equation later this year or at some point next year remains to be seen, but Walter has definitely become an intriguing prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Keegan enters Top 300 prospectsMethuen’s Dom Keegan has been tearing up the competition in the SEC for Vanderbilt baseball this spring, and now that production is beginning to translate into more notoriety within MLB Draft circles.

This week the former Central Catholic great made his first appearance in Baseball America’s Top 300 2022 MLB Draft prospect rankings, breaking in at No. 182 overall. Entering Friday Keegan was batting .399 with a .471 on-base percentage, seven home runs and 40 RBI, but what has really fueled his rise through the ranks has been his successful transition back to catcher, the position he used to play back in his high school days.

In addition to Keegan, North Andover’s Sebastian Keane also remains in the rankings. The Northeastern University junior, a right-handed pitcher, currently slots in at No. 140 in the most recent update.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: acMacCerullo.

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