What to do about the Boston bullpen?

A few weeks into the season, it seemed like finally everything was clicking into place.  At last, the starters were putting together some consistent quality starts and the offense was outperforming what anyone had dreamed during the offseason.  The defense was also improving over the first couple of weeks as the new guys grew accustomed to their new home.  There was just one thing that most everyone could agree was not championship caliber.

The Bullpen.

led by the less-impressive-than-ever Papelbon and the startlingly-good Daniel Bard, the bullpen has been a source of weakness through the year.  The pitchers who did well for the Red Sox in the past- such as Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez just barely seemed to have anything in the tank this year.  That, combined with a flood of new, ineffective relievers- in Schoeneweis, Nelson, Atchison, Embree, and Bonser- have Sox fans the world over sweating everything a starter leaves the game- now matter how big the lead. So lets look at a few of the options the Red Sox have to right this ship and have effective pitching through the last few innings.

First of all, the best place to get relievers is through the minor leagues.  The pitchers cost practically nothing in money and nothing in valuable prospects, which we like to hoard so much.  Fortunately, the Red Sox do have a few arms in Pawtucket who could very well make an impact this year.

First of all, because he's actually in Boston right now (though probably not to stay yet), is Dustin Richardson.  Richardson is a powerful lefty, which has many Sox fans salivating as it really is exactly what the bullpen could use to complement Bard- an effective left-handed reliever.  Unfortunately, although his ERA looks good, at at 2.78 in 32.1 innings, and his strikeouts are at 42, he's also managed to walk 24 players in that short time.  Moving up to the majors, with generally more patient batters, that mark is pretty sure to get worse, so the Sox have been hoping he'll be able to improve his control in order to be an effective reliever in Boston.  He'll certainly be up for quite a while this year, but for now, I'm expecting him to go back to Pawtucket once Doubront gets called up on friday.

Secondly is Robert Manuel, with whom the great mystery is why he is not yet on the Major league roster.  So far, in 34.2 AAA innings this year, he has struck out 30 while only walking 7 (better than a 4:1 k:bb!) and just 25 hits (none of them homeruns), good for a 1.04 ERA.  He has been much more effective against righties than lefties, but has retained good control and pitched effectively against both.  The Red Sox are bound to realize at some point very soon that they pretty much need to give him a shot in the Majors.  He has proven all he can prove in AAA and needs to be given a chance in Boston.

Third of all, the man who will be starting on Friday, Felix Doubront.  After looking better last year than he had before, this lefty starter has been absolutely dominating in 2010, earning himself a promotion first from AA to AAA, and then up to Boston to take Daisuke Matsuzaka's place while he is on the disabled list.  So far this year in 59.2 innings between Portland and Pawtucket, he has posted a 2.11 ERA with 54 K's to 22 BBs.  These numbers have actually looked even better since his promotion to AAA, in the 4 games he's started there.  The one thing that may keep him out of the bullpen is that he has proven that he has the potential to be a very effective starter, so they're going to want to devote most of his time for the year there.  Still, as he approaches an innings limit near the end of the year, they could call him up for a bit to lend a hand to the big league club.  I'm fairly sure we'll also end up seeing him for more than just the one spot start this year.

Fourth of all, Michael Bowden, who has seen his stock fall over the last couple of years as very few have.  While, after struggling in the majors last year, he has followed up by struggling in Pawtucket, he has looked improved over his last few starts.  If he can continue this and Boof Bonser continues to be incapable of getting Major League outs, Bowden is a logical choice to convert to a reliever and use him in the sort of role that Masterson filled in his days as a Red Sox.

There's a few more who could make it, but those are the main guys who I think will make an impact this year.  If he has a great finish, Alex Wilson may be a long shot to come up for the year as well.

Apart from the minor league system, we're finally getting to the time of year where some teams are making players available by trade.  Two teams are pretty openly willing to sell- the White Sox and the Diamondbacks, but there are a few more who would probably willing to listen- the Mariners, Orioles, Royals, and Indians are probably all clearly going to end up as sellers at this point.  Some of these guys might have arms available.

Probably the most appealing would come from the White Sox- a healthy Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton, and J.J. Putz all would have their own appeal to the Red Sox.  A hard-throwing lefty, Thornton is probably the most appealing to the Sox' needs- probably also the most expensive though, as he is a very effective pitcher and comes with a club option for 2011.  Putz would probably be the easiest to acquire as he is gone after this year and is more of a wildcard from year to year.  Still, he can be an effective reliever and may appeal.  Jenks, if he can return to his previous form, can also be quite an effective pitcher, but is coming off injury and, as a closer will be quite expensive to acquire.  Any of these guys becoming available will probably have several teams after them, and it's still not too late for the White Sox to decide that they're still in it for this year.

The Orioles have little to offer- probably the most readily available would be Will Ohman, a perennial mediocre middle reliever.  He would have little value to the Sox and there's really no reason we would want to give anything of value to a division rival in exchange for an unimpressive bullpen arm.

The Diamondbacks bullpen is probably up for grabs, but is currently sporting an ERA that looks like the final score of a blowout football game and peripherals to match, so lets not go there.

The Mariners probably might as well sell at this point, but have little that is too worth it.  Brandon League is a pretty good bullpen arm, and David Aardsma can be a great closer, but they may not be in a hurry to get rid of either if they plan to compete in the next year or two.

Certainly there's some other options out there.  What do you think?  Any particularly good options that come to mind or thoughts on any of these pitchers.  Certainly, we're approaching the point where something has to be done.

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