When the Red Sox traded for reliever Craig Breslow last July, it was a deal that made sense because of his team control. Breslow was a pitcher who could help to stabilize Boston's bullpen in the present, but would also enter his third and final year of arbitration in 2013, giving the Red Sox a quality left-handed pitcher for more than just a couple of months. Considering they dealt Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik to get this, it was a win for the Sox.
Breslow isn't a dominant reliever, but he's been a consistent and useful left-handed for the duration of his career. He's been equally effective against lefties and righties as well, meaning Breslow is more than just a left-handed, one out guy who can throw over 60 games and innings per year. Reliability is difficult to find in the bullpen, especially at a decent price, but that's what the Red Sox have achieved by signing Breslow for two years with an option for a third, totaling just over $10 million.
This move gives the Red Sox one more option in their bullpen in the future, an important fact given how much turnover there is going to be there between now and 2015, much like in the rotation. While the roster is overflowing with relievers now, things change quickly.
|Joel Hanrahan||Andrew Bailey||Craig Breslow|
|Koji Uehara||Alfredo Aceves||Daniel Bard|
|Andrew Bailey||Craig Breslow||Junichi Tazawa|
|Alfredo Aceves||Daniel Bard||Alex Wilson|
|Craig Breslow||Franklin Morales|
|Daniel Bard||Andrew Miller|
|Franklin Morales||Junichi Tazawa|
|Andrew Miller||Alex Wilson|
Hanrahan and Uehara are free agents after 2013, with Hanrahan in the final year of team control, and Uehara signing just the one-year contract. Then, there are multiple relievers from the 2013 group who might not even make it past Opening Day. Alfredo Aceves could end up traded if Daniel Bard pitches well and secures the last spot in the bullpen. Andrew Miller and Clayton Mortensen are out of options, so they too might be moved if the bullpen has seven healthy (and expected) arms in it to begin the year. Then there is Chris Carpenter, who is down to his final option, and could be designated for assignment anytime between now and next November, depending on roster need.
In 2014, Boston loses quite a few arms, even if things work out in a way where, say, Miller and Aceves stick around in 2013. If they don't -- and it's likely that one or both could be moved before 2013 begins -- then things are down to Bailey, Breslow, Bard, Morales, Tazawa, and Wilson. Bailey is a free agent after that season, as is Morales, and even if Miller and Aceves are around in 2014, they are also both free agents by 2015.
Breslow, Bard, Tazawa, and Wilson is a good start to a bullpen, assuming Bard has regained some measure of his former excellence. At this point, if Tazawa is still pitching well, he's very likely the club's closer unless Bard has ascended to the role he was expected to already be in by this point. It's absolutely not a full bullpen, but as said, it's a start.
The good news is that the Red Sox farm system should be able to provide far more relievers to fill in the blanks than just Wilson. Assuming both Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster become starters, then there are still left-handers like Drake Britton and Chris Hernandez, as well as righties like Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, and Aaron Kurcz, in the system. All of these pitchers are in Double- and Triple-A, and likely to be major-league ready by the time there is a need at that level. If someone like 2012 draft pick Pat Light -- expected to be a closer -- can push through the system quickly, then there is even more to work with by 2015.
This is without taking into account that the Red Sox should have the financial flexibility to sign potential impact relievers, much like they did Uehara this off-season, if the back-end of the bullpen is left wanting. Regardless of which strategy used, in the near future, everything is made easier knowing they have the rare lefty who can retire right-handers on board in 2015. Much could change between now and then, in terms of talent and career trajectories, but it's hard to argue with this kind of planning.