Somehow, it's already June 28th, and the Red Sox have played 81 games, half of their schedule. Though it doesn't seem like it's that late in the season, the time to start thinking of trade targets is upon us, with the deadline just over a month away.
Lately, there has been a lot of question marks around the bullpen, and people have been clamoring for high-priced players such as Jonathan Papelbon to come in. Even late-inning pitchers like Jesse Crain and Steve Cishek would likely cost something at least somewhat valuable in the way of prospects. Between Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey (depending on your confidence in him) and Craig Breslow, the Red Sox seem set in the back of their bullpen. Instead, here are some arms they could target to fill the middle of the bullpen who could jump to the later innings if needed. Think of them as moves similar to the one they used to acquire Breslow last year, where they won't have to give up anything of real value to them now or in the future.
Matt Lindstrom, White Sox
First up is Lindstrom, who has had very good results in recent years, and also has some of that "closer experience" that teams value, as he saved 38 games in 2009-2010 for Florida and Houston. In Boston, though, he wouldn’t be asked to close, but he would be a great option to bring in to pitch in the 6th or 7th innings. In the last three years, he has had ERA’s of 3.00, 2.68 and 2.59, along with FIP’s of 3.30, 3.16, and 3.18, respectively. This season, with Chicago, he has struck out 17 percent of the batters he has faced, while walking 12 percent. The peripherals aren’t great, but he's had success in limiting hard contact. He has yet to allow a home run this season, and just 13 percent of batted balls against him this year have been line drives. With Chicago clearly out of the race, Lindstrom could be a cheap alternative to someone like Crain in their bullpen. Additionally, if the Red Sox like what they see from him the rest of the year, he has a four million dollar team option for the 2014 season.
Scott Downs, Angels
This option comes from a team that has deemed themselves as a club that won’t be selling or buying, but that’s mainly a product of their roster. The Angels have a roster full of expensive veterans and valuable, cheap young players (hey Mike Trout), but they have one left-hander in their bullpen who shouldn’t be too expensive, but could bring value to a contender. Downs is 37 years old, and has been successful in this league for quite some time, including for a while in the AL East with Toronto. The last time he posted an ERA+ below 100 was in 2004, which was so long ago it was with the Expos. With Downs, the Red Sox would be getting someone who truly excels against like-handed batters. The other two lefties in the bullpen, Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow, have both shown they can pitch to either handedness hitter, so bringing in a LOOGY-type pitcher could still bolster this bullpen. Downs is a free agent after this season.
Mike Gonzalez, Brewers
Here, the Red Sox find themselves with another left-handed option. Gonzalez, though, is not the LOOGY-type that Downs is, but has instead been able to pitch well against hitters from both sides of the plate. In his career, right-handed bats have a .674 OPS against Gonzalez, while lefties’ OPS against him is .620. In fact, this season his splits are reversed, with left-handed batters having better success than their right-handed counterparts. The southpaw in Milwaukee has a bit of a control issue, walking over four batters per nine innings this season, but his strikeout abilities have evened that out, as he’s punching out twelve batters per nine. As a middle relief pitcher, his strikeouts are more of a boon than his walks are a problem. Like Downs, Gonzalez is only signed through this season.
Photo Courtesy of Hunter Martin
Brandon Lyon, Mets
Another option for the Red Sox as the deadline approaches could be an old friend. Lyon was in Boston for the 2003 season, and appeared in 49 games, before being part of the package sent to Arizona in exchange for Curt Schilling. Since then, the 33-year-old right hander has thrown 494 innings with a 3.73 ERA (118 ERA+) and a 2.1 K/BB ratio. He has some experience pitching in the ninth inning, but in Boston he would be taking over middle-relief duties most likely. Pitching for the Mets this season, his strikeouts are down a bit from the last two years, but he has also lowered his walk rate, and still has a solid 3.43 FIP. Being a free agent after this season, it shouldn’t cost much of anything to get the former Red Sox pitcher back in town from the Mets.
Jared Burton, Twins
If the Red Sox decide they’re willing to give up a little bit extra for someone they have control of for multiple seasons, Burton could be their guy. While the Twins have had more success than many predicted for them, they are still in clear rebuilding mode, and will look to get as many future assets as possible. Jared Burton could net them that, with his 155 ERA+ and 2.8 K/BB ratio over the last two years. On top of that, he is under contract for $3.25 million next year, with a $3.6 million team option for 2015. After being plagued by injury in 2010 and 2011, Burton signed with Minnesota prior to last season and has shown no signs of still being affected by those injuries.
None of those players really jump off the page as game-changers, but they bring more value than someone like Clayton Mortensen or Alex Wilson would, and can fill in for the established members of this bullpen in case of injury. A deal for a player such as the ones listed, or one of the many more that could potentially be available in the next month, would also allow the Red Sox to continue utilizing minor-leaguers such as Rubby De La Rosa as starting pitchers until September call-ups. None of these pitchers or someone similar would be a headline-stealer, but they certainly help the Red Sox during their stretch run towards the playoffs.
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