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Sox' Phantom Depth

Two former top outfield prospects who can play a little defense and sometimes be a threat at the plate and a 1B/OF with two years receiving votes for NL MVP.  These guys are the surplus players just off the Red Sox expected 25-man 2017 roster.  And its unlikely any of them will be able to significantly help the team this year even if they played up to the highest expectations.

Bryce Brentz, Rusney Castillo, and Allen Craig are all Red Sox as of today and you could make a pretty easy argument why it's plausible that each one could be strong contributors to a major league team this year - and two of them likely will, but that team won't be the Red Sox.

Brentz is a former first round pick who can hit the ball a mile, has a cannon arm, and is athletic enough to roam the outfield.  He hit rather well last year, especially against lefties, during his tenure as the Sox starter while Chris Young and Brock Holt were hurt - and Andrew Benintendi was in A-ball.  What has held him back over the years is both his health and his rather aggressive approach at the plate.  But he still has plenty of talent to be a major league team's 5th outfielder.

Unfortunately, Brentz is out of options so he cannot be sent to Pawtucket again this year without first going through waivers.  Assuming Chris Young - and the starters - are healthy when the team leaves Florida, Brentz will have to be traded - probably for next to nothing - or put through waivers where you have to think some team who pick him up and let him stick on their roster at a platoon outfielder.  The only way Brentz's is on the Sox in any way come May is if he makes the roster out of spring training due to an injury, or perhaps if he plays so badly or injures himself and thus passes through waivers.  In the end, if Brentz has a good spring training he will likely be on a major league team this year, but not the Sox.

If the Sox decided that their starters were healthy and they wanted to trade Brentz, they are not likely to get much for him regardless of how well he plays. The reason is that the trade essentially ensures that that team jumps ahead in line to get a free player once he's waived rather than risk that someone else grabs him when he hits the wire.  The fact that that same team has some chance of getting him for free goes quite a long way in devaluing that player in the trade.  Given that the waiver wire pecking order is based on that team's record (and their record the previous year for the first month of the season), the most likely trade would be with a team that was decent last year - or in the National League as AL teams get first crack at a waived player from the Sox - but find themselves with a whole that Brentz could fill so they trade a player to be named later in order to skip the line and fill that hole.

Then we have the players anchored down by their contracts. Call them the stone-shoe twins.  Castillo and Craig both have huge contracts and have not been good in the majors for years.  Thus, the Sox moved them both off of the 40-man roster last year and no one picked them up off of waivers because of those contracts.  If someone had claimed them off waivers, they would take on that player's entire salary.

Meanwhile, the Sox are devoted to staying under the luxury tax threshold this year.  This is because the new CBA has larger penalties for going over.  As Dave Dombrowski told Jen McCaffery at MassLive.com, "Some of them involve, now, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrifices of money to sign players and all that type of thing."  Also, the Sox have been over the threshold the last 2 years and the penalties get increasingly harsh. McCaffery (great reporter) points out that Boston incurred a 17.5% tax on the overage two years ago and a 30 percent tax on the overage last year, and with the luxury tax threshold set at $195 million for 2017, the Red Sox would be taxed 50 percent on the overage as third-time offenders next season. This year they see an opportunity to reset and they want to achieve that.  As Tom Werner told ESPN's Scott Lauber, "Three of the last six years we've been over it... We don't have an ironclad rule about it. We're just trying to do what's best for the franchise and what's best for the team."

And that's the heaviest weight that's holding down Castillo and Craig.  Both will make about $11 million this year yet that $22 million doesn't count against the luxury threshold if they are off the 40 man roster. It's possible one of them could get called up to Boston in an emergency then waived again with almost no chance (unfortunately) of losing him.  But that would move the team closer to the threshold and give them less room to take on a salary with a trade later in the season if they stand by the dedication to stay under the threshold.

If Castillo or Craig play well in spring training or Pawtucket, it's possible they could have trade value.  Castillo apparently played well in the Puerto Rico winter league and we're talking about a guy with speed, power and defensive skills. Heck, he was penciled in to start in left at this time last year but lost out to Brock Holt.

The key to trading these guys is the Sox willingness to eat most of the money.  If, for example, Craig looked healthy and started clocking the ball, might a team that's well under the tax threshold give up say a mid-level prospect to give Craig a shot to reclaim the glory?  If the Sox pay the bills but the new team has the luxury tax burden - and doesn't have any burden because they won't come close to hitting the threshold, then a healthy and hot Craig has value (especially since his contract, unlike Castillo's, can be dumped after this year).

It's odd that the Sox have three players who would seem, talent and health-wise, to be decent depth options this year in an area where they are a bit shallow (outfield and maybe firstbase), yet there's almost no chance that it'll work out. 


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