Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Ten years ago, the Red Sox and Yankees fought for every bat they could find, creating plodding, ogrish lineups at which the world gawked. Now they’re collecting relief pitchers just as vigorously, building bullpens of unprecedented depth and talent. With the trade of Wade Miley to the Mariners in December, the Red Sox added Seattle fireman Carson Smith to a stable of power arms that includes Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, while the Yankees currently boast a back three of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. In this context, there is every reason to think that the Sox got the better end of the Miley deal: In Smith, they got a better, younger player at an increasingly premium position.
What Went Right in 2015
Last season was Smith’s first full year in the show after a 2014 cup of coffee, and it didn’t take long for Mariners fans to call for him to replace Fernando Rodney as the team’s closer. It was for good reason. Through June 5th, Rodney put up a 6.94 ERA, while Smith’s was 1.13, but manager Lloyd McClendon stuck by the veteran as long as he could, preferring his experience over Smith’s obvious talent. While the dam eventually broke, and Smith briefly closed in the middle of the season, McClendon went with Tom Wilhemsen to close out the team’s few wins down the stretch instead of ya boy, who finished with a 1.7 WAR, 2.31 ERA and 2.67 DRA (Rodney was traded to the Cubs). In almost certainly related news, McClendon was fired in the offseason, which seemed to forge a path for Smith to close in Seattle in 2016. But the front office had other ideas.
What Went Wrong in 2015
McClendon. While I don’t begrudge managers for sticking with plans or players to which or whom they are devoted, if only for a couple months, Rodney was especially bad last season at a time when Smith was especially good. It’s pretty clear that Smith probably should have been in higher leverage situations early on, and late-season the decision to back away from Smith in favor of Wilhemsen seems like something by a lame-duck manager in service of a long-exhausted point. Anyhoo, insofar as any of this went “wrong” for Smith, it went right for the Red Sox, who by any real measure got him on the cheap.
Outlook for 2016
I suspect Smith will be a fan favorite this year, with the potential for much better things. He’s talented and young in a bullpen that’s talented and old, which potentially opens doors we want to remain shut. In the best-case scenario he is a sixth-and-seventh-inning lockdown reliever. If things go wrong, we might see him in the eighth. If things go really wrong, we could see him in the ninth, but I don’t expect it. The stormclouds of the last two years ought to have cleared by now. If they haven’t — and God help us, let’s hope they have — Smith’s ability to finish games will be a silver lining. If he doesn’t, the whole bullpen ought to be golden, and Smith ought to glow.
Photo be Jennifer Nicholson/USA Today Sports Images