With everyone focused on the empty rotation with some side attention towards the crowded outfield, I’m going to take a look at another area of need for this Red Sox team, because that’s just how I am. No, not backup catcher, the other fascinating hole on the roster. Of course I am referring to the lack of left-handed relief options. It’s time to pay attention to the real issues, sheeple. Really though, as boring as it may seem, this bullpen needs better left-handed pitching than it has right now. The sexiest option (both in terms of baseball talent and hair) was clearly Andrew Miller, but he’ll be playing in New York next year, so the Red Sox are going to have to aim a bit lower. Luckily for them, there are plenty of potential options out there to fill the hole.
Before we go into the long list of players available from outside the organization, let’s take a quick look at how dire the situation on the roster is right now. As of this writing, the number one left-handed reliever is Tommy Layne. Now, this is not a slight against Layne, who has a very useful purpose in this league. However, making him the number one left-handed reliever on a roster that hopes to win the World Series is not the purpose. Yes, he did post a 0.95 ERA last year with a 3.08 FIP. He is also a 30-year-old with 44 career innings, though. It’s absolutely possible that he proves his 2014 performance was for real, but you can’t enter the season counting on that. Behind him is Drake Britton and Edwin Escobar, neither of whom should really be starting the year on the active roster. Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez could see time in the major-league bullpen, too, but it’d probably be temporary and later in the year. So, clearly, they need to bring in more of a sure-thing to put ahead of Layne.
List of players: Antonio Bastardo, Aroldis Chapman, Rex Brothers, Manny Parra, Boone Logan, Oliver Perez, Matt Reynolds, Tony Sipp
We’ll start with Bastardo, as the Red Sox and Phillies have reportedly already had talks regarding the 29-year-old. Though he’s had a bit of an up-and-down career, he is always good for a ton of strikeouts and a bit of a control problem. As we saw with Miller, if those guys can figure it out, watch out. Chapman is also rumored to be available in a trade, but is probably a longshot in a trade with the Red Sox. It’s tough to see them paying the price for an elite closer after signing Koji Uehara to a two-year deal.
After those two, Brothers and Perez both intrigue me, though their availability is unclear. Since they’re on teams unlikely to compete, it could be assumed they are available, though. The former would be a buy-low candidate, who has been near-elite in the past, but had a rough 2014 due mostly to a huge increase in walks. The latter has been a Miller-lite (I didn’t even do this on purpose!) in terms of a failed starter turned effective reliever. He’s coming off of an impressive 2014 with Arizona, and maybe the Diamondbacks could be willing to include him in any Wade Miley talk.
Then, we move on to the bottom tier, with solid but low-upside lefties. Logan, Sipp and Reynolds have all shown major home run problems in the past, something that may not be the best fit for the AL East. Parra has really only had one good full season, in 2013, but he’s shown flashes of talent in other points of his career. Still, if the Red Sox are going to look to the trade market, the first four names would be the ones to consider if they are available. Lucky for them, free agency is also flowing with names who would be cheap upgrades over Layne.
Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Free Agent Targets
List of players: Phil Coke, Scott Downs, Neal Cotts, Joe Thatcher, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales, Rich Hill
While the trade market has players with much higher upside, this list of free agent has solid players who will only need to be signed to cheap contracts, with no prospects changing hands. Phil Coke is an interesting name to watch, as he’s spent the last five years in Detroit mired in consistency. His peripherals have been much better than the actual runs-allowed results, though, so signing him would be signaling a confidence that his inconsistencies can be attributed to the poor Tigers defense, and not him. Neal Cotts is someone else to watch, but he’s a tough guy to figure out. He missed two full seasons in 2010 and 2011 because of injuries, then stayed in AAA throughout 2012. However, after that, he was a much better pitcher than he’d ever been. He was lights out in 2013, and came back with a very solid 2014. There’s always a risk with relief pitchers, but he’d probably be my top free agent target at this position.
The next tier down includes Thatcher and Downs. Thatcher can be a very good weapon in the bullpen, but he’s not someone who you send out for entire innings at a time. Still, he's been productive enough to feel confident in him as a left-handed middle relief option. Downs, on the other hand, is worrisome because of his age. He’s had a really solid career, but he showed signs of decline in 2014, his age-38 season. If they feel the decline isn’t as sharp as was indicated a year ago, he could be a good, cheap option.
Finally, we have a trio of former Red Sox players. Breslow struggled here last year, but before that has been nothing but solid throughout his career. He’s confident that last season was an outlier, but also appears to be drawing interest from various other teams. Morales has the stuff to be a dominant player out of the bullpen, but as we’ve seen, he’s never been able to master the command. Hill has shown plenty of flashes to be confident in him as an upgrade over Layne, but hasn't shown the ability to stay on the field for a full season since 2009. The Boston native could be intriguing on a minor-league deal, but probably not as the number one lefty in the bullpen.
The Red Sox have a lot of work to do this offseason, and though it’s not near the top of anyone’s priority list, they do need to find a better left-handed reliever. Guys like Bastardo, Brothers and Perez could all be available in trades, while Coke and Cotts could be attractive free agent options. There are a ton of names out there, now it’s just up to the front office to decide who is the best fit.