One of Ben Cherington's best qualities since becoming Boston's general manager has been his ability to build a deep bullpen. He hasn't always gone about it in the best way, making some questionable deals for the likes of Mark Melancon, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, but he's put a priority on having many reliable arms back there. One of those acquired arms was Craig Breslow, who emerged last season as one of the more reliable relief arms on the roster. Due to a lot of work towards the end of the year, they've been taking it slow with him this spring, and he has yet to even appear in a Grapefruit League game.
Now, it's questionable if he will even be able to start the year in the big leagues, or if he'll need some extra time to get ready for the major-league grind. With him, the bullpen was basically set, with very little room to move pieces around. So now, the question becomes: who replaces the veteran lefty on the roster to start the year?
With an empty spot on the roster, Workman is likely the first name to enter most fans minds to fill the role. He pitched for the Red Sox down the stretch in 2013, and even earned himself some late-inning appearances in last year's postseason. As it stood, it appeared the young right-hander would begin the year in Pawtucket's rotation, giving him one last chance to make it as a long-term starter rather than being left to relief duties for his career. And therein lies the problem. If the Red Sox are serious about keeping Workman stretched out, Boston won't be the place to do that. He'd be seventh on the starting pitching depth chart, behind the five starters and newly-acquired long-man Chris Capuano. If he pitched in the majors, he'd likely be in middle-relief roles. It's possible they could view this as a short-term enough move to keep him stretched out with pitching sessions on off-days, but that would be a little complicated. If Workman is indeed the one to replace Breslow, they'd be basically conceding the fact that he's a reliever long-term.
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Cordero is almost a polar opposite of Workman, as a veteran pitcher who is clearly a reliever, and was brought in as a non-roster invitee. When a team has as much bullpen depth as the Red Sox do, it's rare for an NRI to actually have a realistic chance to make a roster. Now, though, the 38-year-old has a very realistic chance to take Breslow's open spot and prove that he belongs back in the majors. After missing the entire 2013 season, he has come back in a big way this spring for the Red Sox. He's yet to allow a run in seven innings of Grapefruit League action, carrying with him amn 8/1 strikeout-to-walk-ratio. As a former closer, he'll be an interesting name to watch, and he'll likely find himself on a roster at some point in 2014. With Breslow on the shelf, it's very possibly the Red Sox will keep him around. They'll have to find some room on the 40-man roster for him, but with Ryan Lavarnway and/or Mike Carp possibly leaving, that shouldn't be a big issue. It would allow Workman to stay stretched out in Pawtucket, and Cordero represents an interesting middle-relief option who could possibly make his way up the depth chart as the season moves on.
Like Workman, Britton is a young arm who made a name for himself down the stretch in last year's World Series run. While it's not imperative that they replace Breslow with another left-handed pitcher, since they still have Andrew Miller and Capuano on the roster, it certainly wouldn't hurt to do so. Britton would be the ideal candidate if they decided to go down that route, as he has the experience and the upside to give middle-inning help with the left arm. He threw 21 innings last year, finishing with a 17/7 K/BB ratio, and a 107 ERA+. Ideally, they'd like to give him a little more seasoning and time to mature in Pawtucket, but bullpens don't always assemble in the most ideal fashion, and he's already shown an ability to handle major-league hitters.
Though Workman, Cordero and Britton are the most likely choices to take the final spot in the bullpen, there are other players out there who could take the spot. Rich Hill is another left-handed option who has experience in Boston's 'pen. He's coming off a tough year in Cleveland following a few seasons of injuries, so how much he has left in the tank is definitely in question. It's not easy to see him winding up with a role to start the year, though. Jose Mijares, another left-handed reliever who came in as a non-roster invitee, was an extremely effective major-league arm as recently as 2012. However, he struggled last season, hasn't looked too great in the spring, and is best used only against left-handed batters. None of that makes for a great Breslow replacement. Finally, there's Alex Wilson. He's another young pitcher who made some relief appearances for Boston last season, although he wasn't as effective as Workman and Britton, and likely doesn't stick in the mind as well. He has enough talent to pitch here to start the year, but I can't imagine him being in front of some of these other guys.
To me, Cordero seems like the most likely man to take Breslow's spot on the roster, assuming they can find a way to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. If that's their only concern, though, it shouldn't be a huge deal. It seems that they are serious about keeping Workman as a starter (they likely don't bring in Capuano if they weren't), and that becomes much more difficult if he starts the season as a reliever. Britton will likely pitch out of the bullpen in Pawtucket as well, but he could use more seasoning at the triple-A level too. Cordero is an interesting pitcher with enough to prove this season, and could very well get his chance to do so with Breslow on the shelf in April.