The Red Sox have been looking for a trade partner to take Edward Mujica off their hands, the only question is why? At first glance, it seems obvious enough. Mujica just didn't have a great year with the Sox. He struggled early, and even with improvement in the later months of the season, finished with a disappointing 3.90 ERA. That's not what the Red Sox expected from him, and not really the sort of performance you want to dedicate a roster spot to.
But that's the reactionary approach to building a bullpen, and basing personnel decisions off a reliever's 60-inning 2014 and not their 206 innings from 2011 to 2013 is how a team ends up looking awfully stupid before all is said and done. The Red Sox learned that lesson well when they gave up on Mark Melancon after just a few (admittedly absolutely terrible) innings in 2012. He showed he was better than that in the second half of season, but the Red Sox traded him to Pittsburgh where he flourished for a closer who managed to be even worse than Melancon had been before hitting the disabled list once and for all.
So are the Red Sox being too hasty here? Are they making the same mistake they made after 2012 with Melancon?
That depends on what their follow-up plan is. At the moment, the Red Sox have a bullpen of Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Robbie Ross, Anthony Varvaro, Alexi Ogando, and Craig Breslow, with Brandon Workman likely the eighth man making the transition to full-time relief in Pawtucket to start the year. Of that group, Junichi Tazawa and Anthony Varvaro are probably the only ones without significant question marks. Koji had that late-season fade, while the rest all struggled significantly in 2014, some due to injuries. While Edward Mujica is a pretty good bet to bounce back--and the Red Sox think the same is true for Breslow, Ogando, and Ross--there's something to be said for having too much uncertainty even for a bullpen.
So how do the Red Sox replace one of those question marks with someone perhaps more reliable? Well, Burke Badenhop is still a free agent, for one. He did nothing but impress with the Red Sox last year, pitching to a career-best 2.29 ERA in 70 innings of work with a 40:19 K:BB. That makes three straight strong seasons for Badenhop, who even fits nicely into Boston's infield focus in 2015 with a 56% career ground ball rate.
If the Red Sox want to get Burke Badenhop back onto the roster for 2015, Mujica is realistically their best chance to open a space without simply cutting a player. The former Cardinals closer is coming off a disappointing season, but not really a disastrous one, and at $4.75 million he makes for a reasonably-priced upside option for a team that might be uncertain about their closer situation.
5 intriguing Red Sox projections
Baseball Prospectus has finally chimed in with their projections, so let's see what we can find.
Really what this all comes down to is perception. Players with experience closing are often perceived to be more valuable than they really are. Burke Badenhop, meanwhile, is the sort of player to be perpetually underrated given an approach that heavily favors ground balls over strikeouts. If this perception has survived the 2014 season for both men, then the Red Sox might have a way to trade off some of that upside for a little more certainty, which would be a welcome change given the current makeup of the bullpen.
Whether that's the case or not is anyone's guess, however. That Burke Badenhop remains available suggests that he, at least, may still be flying under the league's radar. But so far there's no indication that the Red Sox have had anyone bite on Mujica, which would suggest the rest of the league may not be interested in looking past his 2014 season.
And of course there's always the possibility that the Red Sox aren't thinking of any of this to begin with, and are instead interested only in shedding an unwanted piece from the disappointing 2014 team, however reactionary a decision that may be.