Boston’s bullpen is now officially in trouble. Where a month ago they may have had hope for a few players, the utter failure of Fernando Abad in a Red Sox uniform, the continued decline of Junichi Tazawa, and the non-existence of Koji Uehara has essentially left the Red Sox with four-and-a-half viable options in any game that’s even a little close: Robbie Ross (the half), Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Brad Ziegler, and Craig Kimbrel.
Not every bullpen is going to be seven-deep with stars, obviously, but we’re not even talking about stars, here. Just guys who can be trusted to usually hold a 2-3 run lead. Not giving up multiple runs as a matter of course is simply not that much to ask, but the Red Sox can’t seem to find it.
At this point, with the trade deadline past, Boston’s opportunity to add really meaningful help from outside is mostly past. Yes, there’s Jonathan Papelbon, and much as I am loathe to add the Washington Strangler to the mix, when he’s replacing a guy in Tazawa who really seems to be past his 2016 expiration date...Well, at worst it’s replacing one type of choker with another.
But Papelbon is not Boston’s only option. There’s this thing called the farm system, and while the Triple-A bullpen is not exactly the most exciting part of any given farm system, it is a potential pool of resources for the Red Sox to draw from. raw from.
So why haven’t they? I won’t pretend the options are the most likely to succeed in the world, but at this point, they’re probably better off taking the gamble than continuing on with the current dregs. Better a 20-80 chance than guaranteed failure.
The options are slim, because man, I don’t think anyone’s really chomping at the bit to head down that Joe Kelly rabbit hole again. But Kyle Martin and Robby Scott, at least, seem to deserve an opportunity.
Xander Bogaerts’ very bad second half
Overall, it’s been a successful season for Xander Bogaerts, but he’s been a different, worse player since the All-Star break.
Martin has racked up 72 strikeouts in 58 innings of work down below despite being asked to pitch longer outings as something of a piggyback starter much of the year. He’s got a solid fastball with more than enough velocity to play in the majors, and a strong changeup to mix with it.
Scott is much more of a junkballer but, like Martin, he’s managed to succeed in Pawtucket despite being asked to eat lots of innings at a time to help compensate for a rotation that has frequently been raided by the major league team. He holds a 2.32 ERA in 73 innings of work with a K:BB north of 5.00. He’s a lefty who should at least be able to present the same challenge to those batters who really struggle to see lefties as any other with a repertoire that’s well-suited to face righties. The biggest question is how much left he has in the tank given all the innings he’s been asked to throw.
Still, that’s a question the Red Sox should discover the answer to in the majors rather than the minors.
I’m not suggesting that these guys take over eighth-, or even seventh-inning duties. But at the moment the Red Sox have only a handful of guys who can be trusted with even the sixth. Give these guys a try, let them handle some low-leverage innings or take on a start that goes wrong as they’ve been doing in the minors. And if all goes well, maybe in a month’s time you’ve got a sixth and seventh arm who can at least be trusted with the middle innings, or specific matchups.
That’s better than what they have right now. Right now they have too few arms for too many innings, and some combination of managers field and general that aren’t willing to face reality with the likes of Tazawa. After yesterday, simply taking the incorrect option off the table might be reason enough.