The Red Sox have had one glaring weakness all year long: the bullpen. Even before spring training, it was clear that if there were going to be issues, that's where they'd be (baseless offensive naysaying aside). Theo Epstein had forgone signing relievers to big or even mid-range contracts, relying instead on whoever he could find in minor league deals and hoping for some sort of resurgence from the members of last year's pen who had come up empty at the end of the year.
So far, that grand plan has provided Scott Atchison, and a back-end of the pen in Ramon Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen, and Hideki Okajima--all of whom are even worse then they were at the end of 2009. If the Red Sox are to make a playoff push, there's no debating that they'll have to pick up help there. And if the rumors are to be believed, they've been leaving no stone unturned in their search for better arms.
Now, the veracity of said rumors aside, there's quite a few interesting names. From the bewildering (Trevor Hoffman) to the untouchable (Joakim Soria), the Red Sox have plenty of names in mind. Let's take a look at the options the Sox have been linked to, however unlikely or undesirable.
David Aardsma: Remember how the Red Sox had this guy? Then traded him to Seattle where he ended up closing in exchange for Fabian Williamson, who would eventually wind up as Eric Patterson? Man, this is the trade that keeps on taking! Really, though, nothing has changed about Aardsma. Big strikeouts and big walks. He's not as good as he was last year, but he's not as bad as he is this year either. Aardsma wouldn't be a bad addition to the club, but if the M's are looking for compensation for 2009 Aardsma, that should be an easy one to pass on.
Joe Beimel: Big results from bad peripherals. The Sox aren't exactly likely to bite on Beimel and his 13:8 K:BB ratio.
Rafael Betancourt: The Rockies are in about the same position as the Red Sox in the playoff race, and it would be pretty bizarre to see one of them as a seller and the other a buyer in the situation, but if so, Betancourt is a great target. He's got a high 4.86 ERA, but that's primarily from a .378 BABIP, while he's putting up ridiculous strikeout and walk numbers. The only issue would be trusting a huge flyball pitcher in Fenway park, but even with the homers the rest of the package is fantastic. With Betancourt under contract in 2011, however, it's all a matter of whether the Rockies buy into his runs or his peripherals.
Craig Breslow: Breslow is a lot like Betancourt with his impressive peripherals but high fly ball rate, just not as good and with the added issue of dealing with Billy Beane. If Betancourt is available, there's no need for Breslow. If not, he's worth looking into.
Matt Capps: Man, he'd sure be great, huh? Who saw this kind of comeback season coming? What's that? The Twins? Oh well, moving on.
Scott Downs: While perhaps the most attractive of the bunch, both as a lefty spotting a 2.34 ERA (bye Okajima) and as a Type-A free agent, Downs has had a very high price tag attached to him by Toronto, with Casey Kelly or Jose Iglesias being the kind of impact talent they're looking for. If you think the Red Sox are about to give up that level of talent, even for a Type-A, you haven't been paying attention since Theo Epstein took over the front office. Unless the price tag comes dramatically down, the chances of this happening are very low.
Kyle Farnsworth: Statistically, Farnsworth looks like a personally passable reliever. But just remembering him blowing up under the bright spotlights of Yankees stadium has to give anyone pause. He's got his walk rate and fly balls under control, but whether that will make it through to a full Fenway Park is anyone's guess. Farnsworth also shares Kerry Wood's advantage of being close to Type-B status, but the same caveats of the arbitration process apply here as well. Farnsworth will also likely cost more between his club option and the fact that he's not currently sucking for the Royals.
Mike Gonzalez: He's had great numbers in past years, but picking up next year's $6 million contract on a guy who's pitched all of five innings this year and has had a litany of injuries throughout his career is a pretty big risk. Unless things have changed suddenly, high risk is just not Theo Epstein's strategy.
Trevor Hoffman: The Hoff says no, and Boston can be thankful for that, quite frankly.
Sean Marshall: Marshall is having a monster breakout season, with practically everything you look for in a reliever. But he's got two more years of arbitration, so the cost will be high if the Cubs are even in a "sell high" mindset. If they're not, he'll be nigh-untouchable.
Will Ohman: The only thing to really like about Ohman is that he'll likely come relatively cheap. For a marginal upgrade, Ohman could do the LOOGY job better than Okajima. But he's not what the Sox really need.
Rafael Perez: Another example of big results, little peripherals, Perez is much more his horrible 2009 self than the strong reliever we saw in 2007 and 2008-the only thing he has going for him is a high ground ball.. There's no reason to expect he won't start showing his true colors the second he shows up here.
Joakim Soria: Possibly the one reliever who would have the biggest impact for the Sox, Soria's name can be crossed pretty quickly off the list thanks to their place on his no-trade list, to say nothing of the massive price.
Kerry Wood: Wood has gotten a lot of talk, but on the surface doesn't make a lot of sense. He would be cheap, yes, but there's a reason for that. It starts with a 6.30 ERA, continues with a 4.95 BB/9, and finishes with the blister on his throwing hand. Sure, he throws hard and wasn't that bad in June, but he's already given up three walks in just over two innings this month. And the Red Sox should get him. Why? Because at worst he's just as bad as Okajima, and at best he's his blister-free June self who builds his value enough to become a Type-B free agent. The Sox might be reticent to offer him arbitration unless they expect he wants to close or they see a big salary drop based on his crap performance of late. But that's always just their option, since there's no way his option vests. With a price south of "free," why not take a shot?
Michael Wuertz: Wuertz has had his issues this year, likely the result of a shoulder injury. But as Athletics Nation will tell you, he's doing just fine now. And Billy Beane knows it-thus why he won't be dealing Wuertz on the cheap anytime soon.
Unnamed Padres Reliever X: There's been some buzz about the Red Sox dealing some of their excess outfielders for relief pitching from the stacked Padres pen. While the Padres certainly have too many relief pitchers to make it wise to simply hold onto all of them (you can only have so many bullpen innings, after all), to see them trade any of their impressive-and largely team controlled arsenal for some fourth outfielder would be pretty surprising. The Padres may well be where the Sox will find the deal they need, but they'll probably have to cough up more than just a backup.
5.5 games out of the Wild Card, the Red Sox are not out of the race yet, but they've certainly got their work cut out for them. With Theo Epstein always being extremely protective of his farm system assets, don't expect the Sox to be dealing any top names for relief help, no matter their Elias status or how long they're under team control. Still, they have to make some move, because there's no way they're going anywhere without help.