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November 23, 2012 at 2:48 PM

First Take: 40-man comings and goings

Tuesday marked one of the more hectic roster management days in recent memory for the Red Sox, at least of the non-trade variety. Overall, the club designated five players for assignment and added six minor leaguers to the 40-man roster, protecting them from selection in next month’s Rule 5 draft. A typical 40-man deadline day for Boston involves maybe two or three minor leaguers being added, so the relative chaotic transactions this year are worth analyzing.

I’ll start by looking at each player involved (or, where relevant, not involved) in yesterday’s transactions. To close, I’ll see if we can make any general observations.

The following players were added to the 40-man roster:

Allen Webster – Webster (pictured) was the one completely obvious addition to the 40-man, so much so that it really isn’t worth wasting much space on. Here at SoxProspects.com, we have him ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the system. He will almost certainly start the year in Pawtucket, and could/should make his debut at some point this year. No-brainer.

Alex Wilson – Another top-20 prospect, Wilson might compete for a spot in the Boston bullpen in Spring Training. He might have made his debut last season had the Red Sox bullpen been so good from May on. Maybe not as obvious as Webster, but it was a safe bet that he would be added.

Christian Vazquez – Vazquez is a very good defensive catcher who made it to Double-A this year. I admittedly did not think it was as much of a sure thing that he would be added to the 40-man as others, but protecting him makes sense – although he’s not ready for the majors at the plate, a bad team could stash him and deal with the lack of offense, as he could probably cut it behind the plate.

Dan Butler – Most projections had the Red Sox exposing Butler to selection, but as with Vazquez, one can see why Butler was protected. Although perhaps not the defensive catcher Vazquez is, he is very good behind the plate. If, as expected, one of either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway is traded, Butler would begin the season third on the depth chart and would be called up to Boston in case of injury. (Of course, a Mike Napoli signing could affect the catcher depth chart, even if he were to primarily play first base.)

Steven Wright – No, the knuckleballer was not added to the 40-man because R.A. Dickey won the National League Cy Young. No, he was not added because of his success in three Dominican Winter League starts before the deadline (he missed about a month after the birth of his daughter). Wright was something of a surprise addition, but the knuckleball can be a funny thing, as any Red Sox fan knows. Apparently, the Sox have seen enough in scouting Wright over the course of the season, and in his performances since he was acquired for Lars Anderson at the trade deadline, to believe that a) other clubs seeing the same would select him in the Rule 5 draft, and that he might stick, and b) that he has enough potential that it was worth protecting him. Certainly, his three starts for Escogido in the DWL have given credence to that evaluation, as he has allowed just five runs on 12 hits and four walks in 17 innings, striking out 16. He will begin 2013 in Pawtucket as one of the most intriguing players to follow in the system, as he could wind up anywhere from boom to bust and anywhere between.

Alex Hassan – Look, Hassan (pictured) is an interesting player. He’s posted great on-base numbers his whole way up through the system. He has improved his defense enough to play an average left field, but he is probably limited to that spot, a position he lacks the other offensive skills to play at the major league level. Essentially, he is most likely a backup outfielder if his development goes as hoped. So this begs the question: why did the Red Sox protect him? Clubs don’t HAVE to fill their 40-man rosters. The odds would have been extremely low that Hassan would have been selected, and even lower that he would have stuck on a roster all year.

Even if the Red Sox believe Hassan will be ready to contribute at some point this season, I have to be frank: adding Hassan to the roster was, at best, curious, and at worst was an inefficient use of roster space. Odds are that the Red Sox could have waited to add Hassan to the roster until any potential call-up this year. And the decision looks even stranger in light of the club’s outfield depth: Bryce Brentz, J.C. Linares, and Jeremy Hazelbaker will also start the year in Pawtucket, as will Ryan Kalish if he does not make the Boston roster. The team recently signed Mitch Maier to compete for a spot on that roster. Plus, Jackie Bradley, Jr. will hopefully be ready for a promotion to Pawtucket around midseason. Outfield depth is not an issue for the Red Sox, another reason this was a strange decision; the potential loss of Hassan would not have mattered much in the club's future plans.

Now, here are the players who were designated for assignment:

David Carpenter – This one was a foregone conclusion. The only reason he was acquired to begin with is that the Red Sox had to receive a player to complete the “trade” with the Blue Jays in order to send them Mike Aviles in exchange for letting John Farrell out of his contract. Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos even said that his club would have designated Carpenter for assignment had he not been traded. No surprise here – he will probably clear waivers.

Danny Valencia – Also not a surprise. Valencia (pictured) was acquired for rookie-level player Jeremias Pineda in August to provide depth at third base, depth that was needed when Will Middlebrooks went down for the season less than a week later. However, he failed to perform in either Pawtucket or Boston the rest of the way. I also think he will clear waivers, although some team may take a flier.

Sandy Rosario – The Red Sox claimed Rosario off waivers from the Marlins in October before getting players from the Marlins became fashionable, so you probably want him to stick around if you’re a hipster. In all seriousness, he’s performed reasonably well in the Dominican Winter League, albeit in a small sample size. The Red Sox will hope he sticks, and he might.

Zach Stewart – Anyone who watched his two starts in Boston was not surprised by this move. Looking at his body of work, unless/until Stewart can recover the velocity he has lost in the past couple of seasons, he looks like a AAAA player who can get by with his stuff in Triple-A but gets exposed in the majors.

Ivan De Jesus – I was surprised by this move, as were many, but perhaps we should not have been. Both De Jesus (pictured) and Pedro Ciriaco are out of options, and they are redundant – there is almost no way the Red Sox will keep both on the roster next season. Ciriaco is better on the basepaths and defensively, while De Jesus is better offensively (probably by default more than anything though). Perhaps the thinking here is that De Jesus’s best chance to clear waivers and stick around is now, after teams have finished stocking their rosters.

Among those who were not protected, I could see both reliever Josh Fields and Hazelbaker being selected, although I think both would be returned. Fields had a very successful minor league campaign, but his fastball is straight, and he was released from his DWL club after getting hit around over his six innings pitched this winter. Hazelbaker has an intriguing power/speed combo, but could use another season in the minors to continue putting everything together.

So what have we learned here?

1) The Red Sox acquired a lot of chaff over the course of the season. This is what happens when you have massive depth issues due to injury and non-performance. There are certainly a few more players on the 40-man roster right now that could be designated for assignment, and they will be as the club acquires players to fill in the holes on its Major League roster. But it is never good when you designate five players for assignment on the same day and none have been with the team for even six months.

2) The club could be committing more to catcher defense. With the recent signing of David Ross, and given the problems the Red Sox’ pitching staff has had the past two seasons, I get the feeling the club is changing its focus to playing backstops that will maximize the performance of the pitching staff. Among non-pitchers, no defensive player affects the game more than the catcher due to the effects he can have on the pitcher from pitch-to-pitch, something that Marc Normandin recently talked about over at Over the Monster in the context of the Ross signing. Both Vazquez and Butler qualify as defense-first backstops at the major league level, so three could make a trend here.

3) Perhaps, and this one is even more unjustified conjecture than the last point, Boston could also be prioritizing on-base percentage this offseason. The team finished 22nd in the league in that category last season (albeit ahead of the playoff-bound Orioles and A’s, interestingly) after finishing in the top three in baseball every year dating back to 2003 (and they finished fourth the year before). Hassan is the player I’m looking at here, as getting on base is the one thing that he is really, really good at. This is something we will have to continue watching for; if true, it will bear out in the club’s acquisitions for the major league team.

Photo credit: Allen Webster, Alex Hassan, Danny Valencia and Ivan De Jesus all by Kelly O'Connor

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.