There is still a little over three months to go until Opening Day, but the Red Sox roster is relatively close to being complete. They could still use another starting pitching to put atop their rotation, they could stand to make one more move to address the mass of outfielders, and a left-handed reliever certainly wouldn’t hurt. For some reason, though, the team has been connected to some of the biggest right-handed relievers on the market, such as Luke Gregerson and Sergio Romo. Now, there is no word on how much interest they’ve shown in these types of players, and it’s entirely possible all they’ve done is check in on the price. Bringing in someone like that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it would still likely be a waste of funds, especially with the multi-year deals those types of players command. Boston’s bullpen is set from the right side.
There are always going to be questions about relievers given their volatile nature. Still, the back of this bullpen looks as steady and productive as possible. Koji Uehara is back for two more years, and though he sort of fell apart in the latter portion of 2014, he should come back rested and be one of the best bullpen arms in the game. John Farrell will just have to do a little better at keeping him rested through the season. Lucky for him, the two guys trailing him are good enough to pick up the slack. Despite his consistent performances, Junichi Tazawa remains an extremely under appreciated pitcher around the city. I’ve gone over his numbers enough on this page that I won’t do it again - just search his name here and you shouldn’t have to scroll too far to find my arguments for him. Other than his strangely terrible performances in Toronto, he’s been lights out since converting to the bullpen, and there’s no reason he can’t handle some of the heavy lifting while Uehara gets his rest. Then, there’s Edward Mujica, who proved last year just how important first impressions are. His Red Sox career got off to a brutal start, but he turned it around in a big way later on in the year. He’s never going to be a strikeout king, but he’s tremendous at keeping players off the bases, and even has that precious closer experience. Between Uehara, Tazawa and Mujica, the back of the bullpen is set with right-handers.
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Of course, this is a pretty optimistic view of the situation. More likely than not, at least one of these guys will get hurt and someone will need to step up and fill their shoes. Luckily for the Red Sox, there are a lot of young arms in or near the majors who will probably be serving in a relief role in 2015, and beyond. Brandon Workman is the first guy to come to mind, as he’s pitched meaningful, high-leverage innings before, and has shown that his stuff plays up in the bullpen. Anthony Ranaudo could be interesting in that role as well, as he did not inspire a ton of confidence as a starter a year ago. Matt Barnes’ stuff could be intriguing in one-inning spurts, both pieces that came back in the Jake Peavy deal (Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree) should be able to help as well, and minor-leaguers like Noe Ramirez and Aaron Kurcz will likely get a chance to prove themselves in 2015. Not to mention newcomer Zeke Spruill, who the team likes out of the bullpen and may have a ceiling as a ground ball master, not unlike Burke Badenhop. The problem with the depth is some of these guys will be stretched out to providing starting pitching depth through the season, but that’s a solution that should be mostly avoidable.
I think most people are under the impression that the front office is going to bring in one more rotation mainstay. The speculation has been that with that guy brought in, Joe Kelly becomes expendable. However, keeping him around to perform in the swingman/6th starter role - a la Alfredo Aceves in 2011 - would be the best way to go. This way, they’d have a starter they clearly feel comfortable with in case someone goes down, who also happens to be a guy who has proven he can pitch from the bullpen. On top of this, it would allow someone like Workman to stop worrying about preparing to be a starter. If Kelly started the year in the bullpen, they’d really only need to stretch out one of Workman, Ranaudo and Barnes. Kelly plus whoever they stretched out would be the first two to step up in case of an injury to a starter, and they could add a depth piece late in the offseason willing to come on a minor-league deal, and wait in Pawtucket along with Steven Wright. Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson would likely not be too far behind either, if everything goes to plan. That is plenty of starting depth to let, say, Workman and Ranaudo focus on being relievers.
Someone like Sergio Romo is a surer thing than the guys I’ve talked about above, and if the Red Sox didn’t have three guys in the back of the bullpen like Uehara, Tazawa and Mujica, I’d be all for bringing in that caliber of player. They do have those guys, though, and they have a number of young guys ready to take a step forward. Just by the sheer quantity of players, there’s a good chance at least one of them performs well enough that we’ll see them pitching in the 7th or 8th at some point in the year. This team has limited assets, both in terms of long-term money and players to be traded, with some work still left to do on the roster. There is no reason for them to waste it on another right-handed reliever.