Major League Baseball’s waiver trade deadline is Saturday at midnight, just hours away, and there’s one move the Red Sox should make above any other.
Bring in another righthanded reliever.
Sox manager John Farrell was asked prior to Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Orioles – a defeat, mind you, that had nothing to do with the bullpen’s three scoreless, two-hit innings of work – if he’s apprehensive about his team’s depth on the back end with the playoffs nearing.
“If there are ways we can improve, I know that those steps will be taken,” he said. “Concern? No, not really. But if there’s someone out there that makes sense for us to acquire, we might see that.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for his bullpen, but far from panic-inducing. Basically, it was exactly what you’d expect a skipper to say with a trade deadline approaching, short of "we like the guys we have." Right now, it’s all about putting the best product on the field.
It’s mind-boggling to consider the transformation that Farrell’s pen has gone through from the start of a perceived bridge season on the way to becoming a World Series contender.
In spring training, the likes of Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, and Andrew Miller were all expected to play key roles on Boston’s staff. Instead, it’s been a group of youngsters, newbies, and Junichi Tazawa, a middle-innings-reliever-turned-closer-turned-setup-guy. After a few bumps in the road, the Sox found their fireman in 38-year-old Koji Uehara, who’s been high-fiving his way into the record books.
Still, as good as the constantly evolving bullpen has been, it isn’t playoff-tested and has certainly had its bouts with inconsistency.
This season, the Red Sox’ pen ranks 16th in the majors and eighth in the AL with a 3.65 ERA. Since the All-Star break, that number is a drastically-improved 2.47 ERA, good for fourth in the big leagues. In August, the bullpen has taken a little step back, sitting ninth in MLB with a 3.04 ERA.
It’s important to remember, trade or no trade, personnel changes are on the way.
Assuming the Sox’ playoff rotation features John Lackey, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, and – maybe if we will to happen, it will – Clay Buchholz, that means current starters and relievers-of-a-previous-life Ryan Dempster (226 career games in relief) and Felix Doubront (21) are bound for the bullpen.
Doubront is a lefty who would join a pen presently filled with southpaws in Craig Breslow (who has held righties to a .214 average compared to lefties at .293), Matt Thornton, Drake Britton, and Franklin Morales.
So, why the need for a righthander?
Uehara is the closer no matter who is batting, so the focus shifts to the setup men, and that group is thin with just Tazawa, Brandon Workman, and likely Dempster. Add to that, against lefties this year, Sox pitchers have held batters to a .238 average and .685 OPS. Righties are hitting .256 with a .746 OPS.
If you’re in the camp of over-usage paranoia, Tazawa has far exceeded his single-season personal-bests in appearances (59 vs. 37) and innings pitched (59 vs. 44). He’s allowed 11 runs over 30 frames since Jun. 10 for a still respectable 3.30 ERA, but a number well higher than the 2.17 ERA it was prior.
Workman is a rookie, a starter in the process of being converted into a reliever, if only for one season. He’s made 10 career appearances for a 4.41 ERA, but that’s slimmed to a 2.35 ERA spanning five outings dating back to Aug. 10.
Also, speaking only of the righties, Uehara and Dempster have combined to allow nine runs over seven innings in six career playoff appearances for an 11.57 ERA. In case you’re curious, Thornton and Morales represent the lefthanders with a 6.19 ERA in 11 all-time postseason games.
Rosters will expand in the coming days, allowing far more arms to prove their playoff worth, but if they aren’t in Boston already, it’s hard to imagine any of those men will be the answer. Odds are righthanders Pedro Beato, Steven Wright, Rubby De La Rosa, Alex Wilson, Jose De La Torre, Brayan Villarreal, and Jose Contreras aren’t making any future postseason opponents tremble.
As good as the Red Sox’ starters have been of late with a 2.92 ERA over the last 15 games, there will inevitably come a time when the bullpen will have to log lengthy, error-free innings, and maybe on consecutive nights. There must be more than one dependable answer, particularly late in the action, and right now that onus falls on the guys who can retire the righties.
The Sox are unlikely, given the waiver rules, to land a top-tier player, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t find a viable contributor, whether that’s a young arm having a solid season or a veteran who’s played into October, in exchange for very little.
Here’s a fun thought that would cut down on transportation costs:
The Red Sox open a series tonight at Fenway with the White Sox, the very team that sent Boston its biggest midseason pitching additions in Peavy and Thornton. Sure, it’s a pipe dream, but is there any chance Chicago has another spare arm to donate to the cause? Matt Lindstrom, Addison Reed, or Nate Jones would look great in different Sox.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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