So much for the premise of this entire post. After the Red Sox snagged Fien, they put him on waivers right away. The Blue Jays claimed him. After Gaby Hernandez was placed on waivers, the Royals claimed him. That still leaves the Red Sox with Robert Manuel, but that is hardly the haul of talent they had at one point. No word on why the Red Sox placed Fien on waivers - perhaps they thought he could sneak through. The Red Sox 40 man roster now has 39 players on it.
As we wait for the start of spring training games, I thought I'd take a look at how the Sox have been accumulating back of the roster (the 40 man roster, not even the big league roster) talent. A quick break down for those of you who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of roster management: the 25 man roster is the major league roster for the Boston Red Sox. In order to appear in a major league game a player has to be on the 25 man roster. The 40 man roster is a bit different - the 15 additional players on it may be at various levels and aren't necessarily a team. Instead, they're players who the Sox need to keep on the roster, for example Jose Iglesias and Junichi Tazawa both have major league contracts, so they have to remain on the 40 man roster), players who have been in the minor league system for awhile, but the Red Sox don't want to expose to the Rule 5 draft (Mark Wagner), or players who you expect to move back and forth between the majors and AAA, such as Michael Bowden.
Sometimes, when a new player comes in, you need to clear space on your 40 man roster. To do this a team needs to option a player to the minors. To simplify a bit, this can only be done over the course of three years - for the nitty gritty the Wikipedia page has a good overview. In the case of perpetual prospects or older veterans, sometimes this eligibility runs out and other teams may swoop in and claim the player. The catch is that the player must go on the claiming team's 40 man roster. This allows for turnover in available talent and gives players a better shot at making a big league team. I detailed a Red Sox waiver claim in late November for Robert Manuel, but since then the Red Sox have done some nifty roster shuffling to capitalize on freely available talent:
November 21, 2009 - Red Sox claim Robert Manuel from the Mariners using a free roster spot from releasing George Kottaras a few days earlier.
February 10, 2010 - Red Sox claim Gaby Hernandez from the Mariners and remove Robert Manuel from 40 man roster. Manuel goes unclaimed.
March 1, 2010 - Red Sox claim Casey Fien from Tigers and remove Gaby Hernandez from the 40 man roster. Because this move just occurred we won't know whether or not anyone claims Hernandez.
Whether Hernandez gets claimed or not the Red Sox picked up two serviceable back of the bullpen type arms for free. Of these three roster spot sharing pitchers, Fien is the most likely one to make an appearance in 2010. He pitched very well in the minors throughout his career, including a dominant showing last year where he had the 2nd highest reliever K/9 and the third lowest reliever BB/9 in the Independent League. Fien did struggle in a short appearance in the majors last year, although it is hard to draw any conclusions from 11 innings at the major league level. Both have exceptional control as well, but are getting a bit old to be projectable. Hernandez is a bit different - a perpetual prospect who has been in top ten prospect lists for two different teams over four different years, Hernandez has never been able to put it all together. He's a long shot to have any kind of impact on the Red Sox, but at that price, who is to argue?
Overall the Red Sox are accumulating pitching depth, especially in the bullpen without having to use any resources. Given how volatile reliever performances can be and how valuable a player who is labeled a potential closer, such as Manny Delcarmen was prior to his second half slump, is, small moves like claiming Fien could open trade opportunities to improve the club elsewhere, without sacrificing bullpen performance. Also, I can't wait for the real games to start, so I can write about something a bit more important than who might be the 15th man in the bullpen...