The Red Sox have a whole lot of reliever depth. There are a few problems with that, though: there are only so many roster spots to go around, and not all of these relievers are equal pieces. First point first:
- Alfredo Aceves
- Scott Atchison
- Andrew Bailey
- Daniel Bard
- Pedro Beato
- Craig Breslow
- Chris Carpenter
- David Carpenter
- Rich Hill
- Mark Melancon
- Andrew Miller
- Franklin Morales
- Clayton Mortensen
- Sandy Rosario
- Junichi Tazawa
That list even leaves off a few names. Rubby De La Rosa might be a reliever, but for now, he's a starter who will likely begin the year at Triple-A. Same goes for Zach Stewart, who is on the 40-man roster, but has been a starter. Well, tried to be a starter, anyway. The only reliever that Boston is losing from the 2012 bullpen is free agent Vicente Padilla who, even if the Red Sox wanted to keep him, has nowhere to go given the sheer volume of options already on the 40.
Minus Padilla, and not counting De La Rosa or Stewart, the Red Sox have 15 relievers on the 40-man roster. When Alex Wilson (and possibly Josh Fields) are also added, that means that 17 of the Red Sox' 40 spots are consumed by relief options. That's excellent, in terms of options to work with. But it's not a situation that can or should last very long into the winter. Some of these bodies need to be moved so that the Red Sox can maybe have some depth or players at other, non-bullpen positions.
Boston's bullpen might have plenty of useful relievers, but it's hard to see more than a couple of anchor types for the pen, the kind of arm the team can rely on for consistent shutdown work. The obvious choice is Andrew Bailey, who, though he couldn't seem to shake the rust off in his 15 innings in 2012, is easily the top arm in the bullpen: he might have had a 7.04 ERA in what was essentially a spring training workload, but for his career, Bailey owns a 172 ERA+ and just under a strikeout per inning to go with a 3.3 K/BB. He's the team's closer for 2012, unless Boston decides to send him elsewhere in a deal.
The other, who has far less experience as a dominant force, is Junichi Tazawa. But, minimum 40 innings (Tazawa tossed 44), Tazawa led in K/BB thanks to 45 strikeouts against five walks. While he was just a solid starting pitching prospect, his velocity has rocketed as a full-time reliever, and both his command and control have been stellar since he recovered from the after-effects of Tommy John surgery. He might not post a ridiculous 1.43 ERA again, but his relief work for both Boston and Pawtucket is that of a potentially excellent setup man.
The Middle Relievers
While there is not an overabundance of potentially elite relief arms, Boston does have plenty of help for the middle innings to act as a bridge to what they do have. Scott Atchison emerged as a reliable arm, thanks to his second strong season in as many years. In his last 81 innings (over just 59 games), Atchison has punched out 3.5 times as many batters as he's walked, allowing just a pair of homers in that stretch. All told, that gives him a 198 ERA+ with Boston. Why not put him in with the previous group, with numbers that eye-popping? His elbow is a question mark, as he's avoided Tommy John for now, but might eventually need to go under the knife. If rest and rehab have done the trick, then Boston has three relievers they can easily depend on. If not, though, then it's best not to lean too heavily on Atchison.
Craig Breslow, acquired from the Diamondbacks at the deadline, is a left-handed without much in the way of splits between righties and his fellow lefty. That's a valuable bullpen piece, the kind of arm the Red Sox had back when Alan Embree was at his best, or Hideki Okajima. Andrew Miller works as the other left-hander. Like Atchison, there are questions as to how much of his performance he can repeat. But with his new mechanics, things have worked out to this point, and there's little reason to abandon the experiment at this point.
Franklin Morales can bounce between the bullpen and starting as needed, or just the former if his shoulder can't handle even spot starting. He's useful because of his versatility, but thanks to the presence of Breslow and Miller, is not a required piece of the bullpen that will be missed should he need to start. Mark Melancon might very well move up in the pecking order if he can return to form all of the way, but his early season mechanical issues were never completely straightened out, leading to a disappointing campaign. Clayton Mortensen isn't quite as good as he looked early on, but as an arm that can pitch multiple innings while keeping things close -- think pre-2012 Scott Atchison -- you could do a lot worse than Mortensen.
The Question Marks
That's eight relievers who are very likely to be in Boston's 2013 bullpen. Combined with the rotation, that's a full pitching staff. That doesn't mean those are the only relievers the Red Sox will have or use in 2013, thanks to options, projects, and the like. The rest:
Alfredo Aceves: The right-hander had his moments as the Red Sox closer, but the extra focus on velocity at the expense of command was his downfall. That, and his outbursts against manager Bobby Valentine and teammates, did not a happy 2012 make. He's very likely to be part of a trade or straight-up non-tendered given the other options Boston has. Neither is a guarantee, but things are crowded, he's coming off of a bad year, and new manager John Farrell might not want the headache.
Daniel Bard: It's likely he'll begin the year with the club (at the expense of another arm listed above), but that might all come down to his winter and spring. If Bard still can't find the strike zone with any consistency, Boston is going to have a decision to make. If he can get back to who he was, then that's a big win for the Red Sox. But at this point, it's all a wait-and-see game with him. He does still have options remaining, at least, and if he continues to be a wreck, he'll likely go unclaimed just as he did last time around.
Pedro Beato: Acquired in the Kelly Shoppach deal, Beato has intrigue as a former prospect, but he's not alone in that regard. He still has an option, though, so expect him to start the year at Triple-A Pawtucket, to be called up as needed.
Chris Carpenter: His lively fastball makes his future in relief promising, but Carpenter doesn't know where the strike zone is yet. Less than a year removed from elbow surgery, it might also not be a bad plan to let him get to where he needs to be while in the minors as well. Carpenter still has one option remaining, so this is the year to figure out who he is.
David Carpenter: This Carpenter will be 27, and likely would have been removed from Toronto's 40-man had he not been sent to Boston in the John Farrell deal. He's shown some strikeout stuff in the minors, but is likely one of the first options to be designated once a 40-man spot is needed.
Rich Hill: He's out of options, and pitched well despite an inflated walk rate thanks to limiting hits and racking up strikeouts. Hill is a good bet to start the year with the Red Sox if they can find a spot for him, as he would very likely be claimed this winter, or signed elsewhere if Boston doesn't tend him a contract.
Sandy Rosario: Last up is Rosario, a pitcher the Sox claimed off of waivers from the Marlins this off-season. Rosario has a straight four-seamer, but has been working on a two-seamer with less velocity and more movement. Like with Carpenter, Rosario might end up being an early victim of the roster crunch, but he also has an option left, so he can be placed in Pawtucket along with Beato and others to wait his turn.