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Diving into the left-handed reliever market

Which southpaws should the Red Sox look at?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

We all know that the top priority for Boston this winter is going to be on the offensive side of the game as they search for a big bat to insert right in the middle of their lineup. That’s all well and good, as well as absolutely necessary, but we all know those potential targets pretty well by this point. Rather than continuing to focus on that, for now I want to head over to the bullpen (shocker, I know). Specifically, I’d like to look at the left-handed relievers available in free agency this winter.

I’ve been of the mind that Boston is in need of a new top left-handed reliever for years now, essentially since they traded Andrew Miller. Obviously, they’re not getting that kind of talent, but it would be nice for the team to have an option better than Robby Scott or Brian Johnson. It’s still really early in the offseason, but the two-year, $10 million deal to Yusmeiro Petit leads me to believe the reliever market may be relatively cheap this year. There aren’t many star-level lefties available on the market, but here’s a look at some of the very good options out there.

Mike Minor

While there is no elite-level lefty available on the same stratosphere as guys like Wade Davis or Greg Holland, Minor is definitely going to be the most highly-sought after southpaw. The former Royal spent all of 2017 in Kansas City’s bullpen after missing the previous two seasons. A former starter, he shined in a relief role striking out over ten batters per nine innings, walking fewer than three and pitching to a 2.55 ERA with a sub-3.00 FIP and DRA over 77 23 innings. I suspect the Red Sox won’t look to spend the money or give the years required for Minor, though, as MLB Trade Rumors projects he’ll earn $28 million over four years.

Jake McGee

To the extent that there is any popular left-handed relief pitcher, McGee seems to be the most popular target for the Red Sox among fans that I’ve spoken with. It makes sense as he’s shown big upside in his career, and he’s also someone we’re all familiar with as a former Ray. He had a bit of a bounce-back year in 2017 after struggling in 2016, his first year in Colorado, but still isn’t quite the same guy he was with Tampa Bay. MLBTR projects him to make $18 million over three years, and while that salary isn’t exorbitant I wouldn’t want to guarantee three years to someone trending down like McGee, particularly when they are entering their age-31 season.

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Watson

I’ve mentioned this before, I’m sure, but Watson is probably my favorite of the left-handed relief targets available in free agency. He’s certainly not a perfect player, but there is a lot to like. For much of his career in Pittsburgh, Watson was among the most underrated relievers in all of baseball. He won’t get a ton of strikeouts, but the southpaw generates weak contact and, at his best, ground balls. It’s true that he’s been a bit worse over the last couple of years, but he was dealt to the Dodgers midway through 2017 and looked close to his old self after the trade. There’s some downside here, and he’s going to be 33 this year, but MLBTR projects him to make $12 million over two years and it wouldn’t shock me if he could be had on a one-year deal with a higher AAV.

Boone Logan

If Watson is too old, too expensive or too inconsistent, Logan would be my second choice. The former Yankee and Rockie has spent the last couple of years in Cleveland’s bullpen, and he’s been a roller coaster. At his best, he is a high-strikeout, high-grounder pitcher, which is the ideal combination for a reliever. However, he has some lapses where he loses his command and that leads to free passes and home runs. There’s plenty of risk here, but if Logan can be had on a one-year deal there’s a chance they catch lightning in a bottle and get a quietly near-elite reliever in the back of their bullpen.

Francisco Liriano

We obviously know Liriano better as a starter, and there were points in his career where he was among the most exciting starters in the game. He spent the second half of 2017 as a reliever, however, and while he wasn’t spectacular we still saw flashes of his stuff. There’s a little too much risk here for my blood, but he has the talent to succeed in this role.

Brian Duensing

Duensing is on the other end of the spectrum from Liriano as a long-time left-handed reliever who won’t knock your socks off but can provide stability from the left side. He is coming off the best year of his career, though it’s hard to bet on that being repeated in 2018. He’s a solid pitcher, but probably not much of an upgrade over Robby Scott at this point.

Glen Perkins

It was only three or four years ago when Perkins appeared to be one of the better young closers in all of baseball. His career has been derailed by injury over the last few seasons, but he did come back healthy last year. This would be a high-risk move in terms of performance, but Perkins shouldn’t cost much as he tries to re-establish himself in this league on a cheap one-year deal.

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Kevin Siegrist

Here we have another bounce-back candidate whose career has been a bit of a roller coaster. At times, Siegrist has looked like one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball, but at other times he barely looks like a major leaguer. He’s going to walk a fair amount of batters, but generally gets enough strikeouts to make up for it. Where his seasons are made or broken is the long ball. Siegrist is a flyball pitcher and when he catches too much of the plate he gets in trouble. That might be too risky a profile for the AL East, but it’s at least worth looking into his price.

Oliver Perez

If it feels like Perez has been around forever, well, he has been. The southpaw has been in the majors since 2002, but he’s still putting up productive years from the left side and is coming off an above-average year for the Nationals. The downside is that he’s 36 and a flyball pitcher, but he has good strikeout and walk numbers and has been doing this for a long time.

There are a lot of options available in terms of left-handed relievers, and this list doesn’t even mention guys like Robbie Ross, Fernando Abad, Eric O’Flaherty or Zach Duke. There’s not a lot of game-changers and none of the southpaws available will end up as the team’s second best reliever, but the Red Sox would be better with one of them on the roster. Watson is still my top choice, but I could be talked into most of the players listed above.