It’s been a long winter, but spring training is right around the corner with pitchers and catchers reporting in just 31 days. It’s been a strange winter around the league, with plenty of very good players still available at this point of the offseason. Unfortunately for those of us who are bored with the status quo, the Red Sox are highly unlikely to go after any of these remaining high-end free agents. That fact doesn’t mean this is a complete team, though. The outfield is two-thirds filled with question marks. The rotation has a lot of variance where some kind of safe mid-rotation arm would be huge. The strangest hole, to me at least, is their relative lack of talent from the left side in the bullpen.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about this, and if we’re being honest with ourselves it’s probably not the last, either. Shortly after the offseason began, Tony Sipp was my guy. Unfortunately for me and the Red Sox, he’s long since re-signed with the Astros, leaving behind a void of strong left-handed relievers. Antonio Bastardo is still out there, but while he’s the best player of his kind on the market, it’s hard to see the Red Sox really making a push there. He’s going to cost a multi-year deal for a not-insignificant number of dollars per year. He could be worth it, but Boston has already used a tremendous amount of resources for their bullpen and they probably don’t want to stay down the path.
The fact that the best arms either aren’t available or aren’t realistically attainable doesn’t mean they should ignore the problem, however. All it means is that the front office should go with the more creative route, adding a couple of cheap arms and seeing who sticks. The team already has Tommy Layne and Robbie Ross, who have shown the ability to be solid but certainly aren’t above being challenged for the role. Adding competition could force everyone involved to take steps forward, a beneficial result for all. There’s a lot of options if they go this route, but the best may be reuniting with Franklin Morales.
Obviously, we all know Morales fairly well. He came to Boston back in 2011 and spent the next four(ish) years here. He definitely showed some flashes — both in the bullpen and in the rotation — during his tenure in Boston, but much more often he was way too erratic. Issues with control and command both surfaced far too often for a strong major-league pitcher, and he was eventually sent back to Colorado for Jonathan Herrera. So, yeah, that’s the guy I want to bring back.
The reason to give Morales another chance is because of the pitcher he turned into last season. Going to his Baseball-Reference page and looking solely at his 2015 numbers are jarring when you remember what kind of pitcher he was with the Red Sox. Under the Royals tutelage last season, he turned himself into a whole new pitcher and it worked wonderfully. He watched his strikeout rate dip to nearly all-time lows, which is bad for most pitchers but it helped solve his bigger issues.
As he stopped focusing so much on Ks, his walk rate fell way down beyond respectable to straight-up good. On top of that, he stopped leaning so heavily on his four-seamer and instead upped the usage of his sinker and cutter. It resulted in a lot of ground balls (a 51 percent rate per Baseball Prospectus, six percentage points higher than any other season besides his rookie year) and a lot fewer home runs. Obviously leaving Coors and the parks of the AL East helped his home run rate drop, but it’s clear there were other things at play. All told, he put together his best season by ERA+ and his second best season by FIP-, DRA and cFIP.
The overall numbers don’t tell the whole story, either. As a left-handed reliever in this bullpen with so much talent, the platoon splits are the most important part of his game, and Morales was fantastic against left-handed opponents last year. Even his strikeout rate against them stayed at a near-average 19 percent, compared to his 16 percent overall rate. He also walked them just 4.8 percent of the time, which is crazy if you remember his time in Boston. At the end of the day, he was dominant, limiting lefties to a .194/.250/.320 line in 2015.
It goes without saying that there is no guarantee this will carry over into 2016. If there was, Morales would be looking at a multi-year deal. He very likely was the beneficiary of playing in a good home park with a great defense behind him. With that being said, he also made some noticeable changes in his game that worked like a charm. He’s going to be relatively cheap for whoever signs him, and could be part of an all-around beneficial competition in spring training. The Red Sox are done with their headline-making moves, and it’s time for them to move into the bargain bin portion of the offseason. Bringing back Morales would be a good place to start.