The World Series is over (spoilers: Cubs won) meaning the hot stove season is here. But if Game 7 is now in the books, the Fall Classic and the series leading up to it are still set to have an effect on the offseason to come. Every year teams look to the most successful models of October and, whether it’s methodologically wise to do so or not, attempt to imitate them in hopes of seeing similar success.
This year one of the big stories of the postseason is the impact of big-time relievers. Both Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller finished the year with mini-meltdowns that ultimately sent Game 7 into extra innings, but it’s likely that only happened because both men had been relied on so heavily to get their teams there in the first place. Before last night, Chapman had thrown 14.1 innings in 12 postseason games leading, including nailing down an 8-out save in Chicago’s 3-2 Game 5 win. Andrew Miller puts that performance to shame, almost single-handedly picking up the slack left by an injured Cleveland rotation with 17 innings in nine games—all of them wins. Red Sox fans know well how that worked. They had maybe two times through the order to get to the likes of Josh Tomlin before Cleveland turned to Miller for two innings leading into the likes of Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen.
This, of course, is awfully similar to how things played out for the 2015 World Series champion Royals. If one year was enough to set teams hunting for their own lockdown bullpen, 2016 should set them to swarming.
For the Red Sox, this is bad news. The Sox have relatively few major needs this season. If they can find a way to add a bat somewhere between first, third, and DH, then the only thing that might be left is...the bullpen.
To be fair, Boston isn’t desperate in the pen. With Carson Smith on his way back and Joe Kelly finally where he belongs, the Sox could put together something passable without too much trouble. But the Sox don’t really want passable. With a decent chunk of change available to them, they likely want to at least bring back Brad Ziegler, and quite possibly add another strong arm on top of that.
Unfortunately, that’s a lot easier said than done when everyone else is suddenly looking to build a monster bullpen too. In an ideal world, the Sox would be able to take advantage of the fact that they have so many positions set in stone with young talent to push harder on the likes of, say, Kenley Jansen than other teams. Now? Good luck. An area that’s typically been the purview of teams with everything else sorted away is once again going to have everyone from the champion Cubs to the awful Twins poking their heads in and wondering if maybe, just maybe a good ninth inning arm will make up for not having anyone to play at second base.
Alright, so that’s the one position the Twins do have figured out. But you get what I mean.
This is not to say the Red Sox won’t find their man (or men), but the market is already not really in their favor. They’ve distanced themselves from Chapman already over his domestic violence history, and one of the other big arms on the market is Mark Melancon, who I can’t imagine is looking to make a return to Fenway Park. Competition is up, and the Sox’ realistic options are relatively few.
The Sox are almost certainly going to find a bat somewhere out there. It’s their clear top priority this offseason, and when Dave Dombrowski has a clear need and a number of reasonable answers for it, it’s hard to imagine that need is unmet come March. But when it comes to using their budget to add value elsewhere, things might be quite a bit tougher. They’ll be one shark among 30, and while they might have the luxury of putting a little more behind their efforts than most, that hardly guarantees success.