Mullen on the Minors: September means roster expansion

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Mullen on the Minors: September means roster expansion

Major league rosters will soon expand, from 25 to 40 on Sept. 1. At that point, any player in the organization can be called up to the big league team (and added to the 40-man, if hes not already on). Also at that point, the effectiveness and the worthiness of such moves will be debated.

For teams in contention, the call-ups can provide some reinforcement and rest for players as teams make the stretch run to the playoffs although some will debate how much help a minor leaguer will provide in place of a regular major league player. For teams not in contention, the call-ups can give evaluators a chance to see them in a major league environment although most evaluators are not fans of evaluating players in September.

The Red Sox find themselves in new territory this September. In previous years they have been playoff contenders. Former manager Terry Francona was never a big fan of the late-season call-ups as he tried to prepare his team for the playoffs, with extra bodies and their requisite extra lockers and equipment -- clogging up the clubhouse and the dugout, trying to find adequate playing time for all, with the possibility of having a game turned by a player who has not been around all season, or watching the scoreboard thinking that another playoff contender is playing a team with a lesser lineup in September.

This year, though, the Sox find themselves on the other side of the coin. The Sox wakeup Thursday morning to find themselves 13.5 games back, in fourth place behind the Yankees in the American League East, 10 games behind the As and Orioles for a wild card spot with four teams ahead of them. Additionally, last weekends blockbuster trade with the Dodgers opened four spots on the big league roster. Since Saturday, the Sox have either activated from the disabled list or called up eight players. While some of the players who were called up either already have been or will be sent back, it just demonstrates the needs for players on the big league team.

A few weekends ago with the Red Sox in New York, general manager Ben Cherington said he expected Daniel Bard, who was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 5 after an abysmal foray into starting pitching, to be back with the major league team before rosters expand on Sept. 1. That statement appears to be coming true today, as Bard is expected to be activated Thursday, taking a spot on the 25-man roster, with Wednesdays starter Zach Stewart likely to be optioned back to Pawtucket.

How much help Bard will be able to provide remains to be seen. In 11 games, 10 starts, before being optioned in June, he posted a record of 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA. In 55 innings, he gave up 52 hits and 37 walks with 34 strikeouts. At the time he was tied for the league lead with eight hit batters.

Whether Bard, who has recommitted to the bullpen, has actually earned a promotion is also a question. But, it is likely a moot question at this point, with the major league team in need of arms. In 31 games (one start) with Pawtucket, Bard is 3-2 with a 7.03 ERA. In 32 innings, he has given up 31 hits and 29 walks with 32 strikeouts. He has hit 10 batters, and also thrown nine wild pitches. In nine August appearances, spanning 8 23 innings, he has given up 12 runs, nine earned, for a 9.34 ERA, with 11 hits, 12 walks, and eight strikeouts. But in his last three outings, spanning three innings, he has given up just one run on five hits with no walks and two strikeouts.

Here is a look at some others who could be called up soon:

Chris Carpenter In 15 games, spanning 14 23 innings with Pawtucket, the right-hander has posted a record of 1-0 with three saves and a 0.61 ERA. He has allowed just one run on six hits, including a home run, with seven walks and 15 strikeouts. In his last 10 outings, spanning 9 23 innings, he has not allowed a run, with four hits, three walks, and 10 strikeouts. Carpenter, who turned 26 in December, was acquired from the Cubs in February as compensation for former GM Theo Epstein, and underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in February. He made his major league debut with the Cubs last season, appearing in 10 games, spanning 9 23 innings, giving up three runs on 12 hits and seven walks with eight walks.

Pedro Beato -- The right-hander, who was acquired from the Mets for Kelly Shoppach on Aug. 16, was called up Aug. 26. He earned the win that day, giving up two run on three hits in two innings against the Royals. But with Sox in need of more help, he was sent back to Pawtucket the next day. Beato, who turns 26 in October, made his big league debut in 2011, and also appeared in seven games with the Mets this season. In two relief appearances with Pawtucket, spanning three scoreless innings, he has given up just one hit and a walk with six strikeouts.

Che-Hsuan Lin The outfielder was called up Aug. 25, his third call-up this season, but was sent back the next day. With the Sox he has appeared in seven games, six in right field, one in center, going 1-for-6 (.167) at the plate. In 109 games with Pawtucket, he has appeared in 88 games in center field, 20 in right, and one in left, serving as the designated hitter for two games. Lin, who turns 24 on Sept. 21, is batting .244, with a .321 on-base percentage, and .310 slugging percentage.

Danny Valencia The infielder was acquired in a trade with the Twins on Aug. 5, getting his first call-up on Aug. 11. He appeared in four games, playing third base, batting .125 (1-for-9) with an RBI before being sent back to Pawtucket on Aug. 21. Valencia, who turns 28 on Sept. 19, appeared in 34 games for the Twins this season. Making 33 starts at third, he hit .198, with a .212 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage. In eight games with Pawtucket, he has hit .312 (10-for-32) with a .371 OBP, .406 SLG. In 77 combined Triple-A games with Pawtucket and Rochester this season, he is batting .258, with a .298 OBP, and .400 SLG

The Sox could also get bullpen help in September from left-hander Rich Hill and right-hander Scott Atchison, who are both on the 60-day DL. Hill underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2010, returning to the big league team on April 29. But an elbow strain has sidelined him since June 8. In five rehab appearances with Pawtucket, spanning five scoreless innings, Hill has a record of 1-0, giving up one hit with one walk and five strikeouts. Atchison, on the DL since July 14 with right forearm tightness, initially thought he might have to have Tommy John surgery until doctors recommended rest and rehab. If healthy, he could return in the middle of September.

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.