Red Sox: Heath Hembree disappointed by demotion


The Boston Red Sox optioned reliever Heath Hembree to Triple-A Pawtucket, despite that he’s had more success than other members of the bullpen.

Sometimes the life of a baseball player just isn’t fair. You work hard at your craft to make it to the big leagues, where you find success that rivals any of your peers. Then without warning, the opportunity is taken away.

That’s the scenario that Heath Hembree is struggling with after the Boston Red Sox demoted him back to Triple-A Pawtucket. With Eduardo Rodriguez set to come off the disabled list to start Tuesday’s game in Baltimore, someone from the roster needed to go in order to clear room.

But why did it have to be Hembree? The right-hander has arguably been the best reliever for the Red Sox this season, posting a 2.14 ERA and striking out 18 batters over 21 innings. Sounds like the type of guy you want to be able to call on from the bullpen, right?

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Except that’s not the reality of front office decisions, where other factors are weighed beyond which players make the roster strongest. Hembree is riding the shuttle back to Pawutcket simply because his contract still has minor league options available.

Since the other relievers in the bullpen are out of minor league options, they can’t be optioned without their permission. Replacing anyone else in this bullpen would have required designating that pitcher for assignment, which means the Red Sox risk losing them to another team.

Clay Buchholz recently joined the bullpen after getting bounced from the rotation, so essentially he’s taking Hembree’s spot while Rodriguez takes the vacated rotation spot. Is Buchholz really a better choice than Hembree to help the Red Sox win games? Unlikely, but it seems the team wasn’t quite ready to let Buchholz go. They are holding on to the slim hope that tossing a few quality innings in relief could restore some of his shattered confidence, which could prove valuable if a rash of injuries to the pitching staff forces them to turn to Buchholz as a starter again later this season.

It’s clear that Hembree deserves to be pitching in the majors, but sending him down instead of releasing another member of the bullpen is all about preserving organizational depth. It may actually make the team weaker in the short-term, but it’s the right move in the long run.

Hembree seems to understand the team’s position in this matter, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

"“I know I can pitch here,” a disappointed Hembree told the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato. “For a long time I’ve already know that. So it’s not like it gives me confidence that I came up and did well. It just sucks. It’s (expletive) that I’m in this situation. But whatever. You have to take it how it is. I’m numb to it. It’s happened so many times before. It’s not the first time.”"

Since being acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Jake Peavy trade back in 2014, Hembree has bounced back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket. His previous stints in the big leagues came with mixed results, which explains why he’s been in this position so many times before. Except this time is different. This time he’s pitched well enough to earn his role in the big leagues, but is being sent down anyway due to front office politics.

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While he has every right to be frustrated by his demotion, the situation Hembree finds himself in is not uncommon in the world of professional baseball. We’ll see him back on the Red Sox roster at some point this season. In the meantime, he’ll have to be patient and not let the situation effect him on the mound.