Dave Dombrowski spoke to the media on Tuesday, and when talking about the team’s plan heading into the offseason, he backed up a lot of what most fans have been saying over the past month. Namely, he said the focus will be on finding a front-line starter as well as rebuilding the bullpen. According to the new President of Baseball Operations, the lineup is mostly set, and there is enough depth in the back end of the rotation. Of course, one should always take a front office member’s comments with a grain of salt, but since he agrees with us, it makes sense that we take it as the truth.
Anyway, this is just a long way of saying that for all the excitement many hold regarding the upcoming offseason, it might actually be a relatively boring winter. Sure, the Red Sox will be in on David Price and Johnny Cueto. There will be a bunch of crazy trade rumors involving star pitchers, and some of them may even be true! However, most of the action is going to involve the bullpen.
Boston’s relief unit is so bad that I’ve *literally* run out of ways to describe it besides Not Good. Dombrowski is going to need to focus on basically every role in the bullpen, from the ninth inning to the long man. It’s another role I want to focus on today, though. The Red Sox lacked a strong left-handed option out of the bullpen for the entirety of last season, which is something I wrote about last offseason. They simply haven’t been able to find anyone who possesses anything vaguely resembling Andrew Miller’s skill set. It’s clear that the new-look front office can’t have the same approach in this area as the old regime did, so let’s look at some possible options to serve as the team’s top lefty.
(It’s worth mentioning that Aroldis Chapman will not be included here. He is a potential target, but he transcends handedness.)
Options: Tommy Layne, Robbie Ross, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Edwin Escobar
To put it nicely, this is an underwhelming group. To be fair, most of these guys can be part of legitimate major-league bullpens. We’ve seen Layne be a solid LOOGY, even if he’s an almost guaranteed disaster if forced to face a right-handed batter. Ross was far and away the best reliever on the team over the final month of the season. Both of those guys have a case to stick around next year, but neither should be the number one left-handed option.
The next two names are more intriguing, but the role obviously isn’t a perfect fit. Owens in particular has stuff that could be lethal in short stints, but he is also likely to be the first or second line of depth for the rotation. It’s possible to carry a swingman who stays stretched out and still pitches in high-leverage situations — look at Alfredo Aceves in 2011 — but it’s very hard, especially for such a young pitcher. Johnson, meanwhile, is likely further down on the starting pitcher depth chart, but he’s also a worse fit in the bullpen. Neither guy is likely to be a part of the 2016 reliever corps.
Escobar has no shot of playing such a large role to start the year. His best-case scenario would be emerging and becoming a major player in the second half. Clearly, there are no comforting in-house options, which leads us to the guys out of the organization.
Options: Antonio Bastardo, J.P. Howell, Oliver Perez, Tony Sipp
To be fair, there are going to be more options than this after teams decide who they are going to non-tender. For now, however, the options in free agency are relatively slim. Howell may be the most intriguing on the list, but the Dodgers have a $6.25 million option on him for 2016. If they decline it, Boston should be all over it, but it seems unlikely. After him, Bastardo (or Tony No-Dads) represents the best free agent option. Though he’s prone to erratic performances at times, he’s the power-throwing strikeout lefty this bullpen sorely lacks. He has six full seasons under his belt and he’s never finished a year with a FIP above 3.34, and his career-low K% is 26.3%.
Perez has always been a personal favorite of mine, and has taken a similar, albeit less drastic, road to Miller’s. Once a top starting pitching prospect, Perez transitioned to the bullpen and quietly turned into a very solid left-handed option. He now has four seasons as a full-time reliever and has pitched to a 3.31 ERA and a 3.21 FIP with over eleven strikeouts per nine innings. Sipp has redefined himself in the last two years with Houston, and could serve as something more than a LOOGY with very small platoon splits.
The good thing about this group is they are all similar in talent, and none of them will demand anything close to a prohibitive contract.
Options: Will Smith, Boone Logan, Marc Rzepcynski, Mike Dunn, Adam Morgan, Drew Pomeranz
The thing about the trade market with respect to relievers is it’s impossible to guess who will be available. These names all stood out as possibilities to me based on their team, but many more will likely be out there. With that being said, it’s hard to imagine anyone being more desirable than Smith. Even beyond sharing a name with the greatest actor/rapper of our time, he is one of the more underrated young bullpen arms in the game. Over the past two years, the now-26-year-old has thrown 129 innings with a 3.21 ERA and a 2.87 FIP. Among the 329 pitchers who tossed at least 50 innings this year, he ranked 64th in DRA- and 17th in cFIP. The Brewers are likely in rebuild mode, but Smith could cost a lot in a trade given his talent and the four years remaining before he hits free agency.
Logan, Rzepcynski and Dunn are all basically the same guy, and don’t need too many words spent on them. They’re all veterans on teams that could go on a selling spree this winter. Each of them have solid track records, but haven’t been so great that they’ll cost a lot in a trade. These are the boring, but potentially effective, members of the lefty reliever trade market. The Michael Bluths, if you will.
Finally, there are Morgan and Pomeranz, who are incredibly intriguing but not locks to be available. The credit to the Morgan idea goes to Brian MacPherson, who brought his name up in this column. He would be a coin flip and probably shouldn’t be relied on as a number one option right away, but he could emerge as one relatively quickly. Pomeranz, meanwhile, excelled as a reliever in Oakland last season. While it’s hard to see why the A’s would trade him, it’s a fool’s errand to try and guess what Billy Beane will do.
As Dave Dombrowski tries to solve the Boston Bullpen Crisis, one of the key situations he’ll need to address is the lack of effective left-handed arms. The in-house options are less than ideal, but there are plenty of available options, and none of them will be overly expensive to acquire. My personal favorites would be Smith, Howell or Bastardo, but any of the options listed above would be an improvement over the current situation. Really, the only way the front office can fail is to stand pat.
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