If you’ve been reading me for long enough, you’ve surely heard me wonder if/when the Red Sox are going to address their lack of a reliable left-handed reliever. Really, it’s been since they traded Andrew Miller to the Orioles. Since then, it’s been a revolving door of southpaws in the bullpen, and sometimes they just haven’t had any. To be clear, this strategy has mostly worked for them. The team has won three consecutive division titles and just finished up one of the greatest seasons the sport has ever seen. They might know what they’re doing! Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is the year they finally grab an established lefty from outside the organization. Maybe if for no other reason than to shut me up!
One of the big reasons I think they will look to add a lefty this offseason is because of a righty they are losing. All year, when Alex Cora and company were asked about possibly promoting a lefty to the major-league roster, he/they pointed to Joe Kelly. The righty was good against hitters on both sides of the plate in 2018, and that was a weapon we probably underrated through the year. Kelly is, of course, a free agent now, and while I think the Red Sox will make every effort to bring him back I think his postseason performance will be enough for him to get a bigger deal elsewhere. As a result, the Red Sox don’t have the main piece that kept lefties out of the bullpen for so much of 2018.
That’s not to say the Red Sox don’t have any options already in the organization for the 2019 season, however. They have a pair of lefties that could be intriguing next year after spending most of 2018 in Pawtucket. Bobby Poyner was one of the stars of spring training this year, made the team out of camp and only ended up in the minors because he had options. I think it’s clear the team likes him quite a bit. Robby Scott, meanwhile, pitched extremely well in Pawtucket last year and has succeeded as a LOOGY in 2017. There’s also Tyler Thornburg, who is a righty but at his peak showed off significant reverse splits.
While there are real in-house options, each of them also has a very real question mark. Poyner doesn’t have a huge ceiling, and he also doesn’t have much of an established track record. Scott can be good in one-out situations, but the Red Sox aren’t likely to carry someone like that for an entire marathon of a season. Thornburg, well, we have no idea what the hell to expect from Thornburg in 2019.
It’s not just that they don’t have any sure in-house options, though. Like I said, they haven’t had any sure in-house options since Miller left. Kelly ended up being that guy, but he did go through a stretch of absence this summer and was not really a sure thing headed into the year. The market this year gives them a lot of opportunities at a number of different tiers to add that lefty. In fact, the biggest name among them might be Miller himself. The man the Red Sox recreated into a dominant left-handed reliever hits free agency this year, though he has some question marks of his own. He’s joined by Zach Britton at the top of this group. Looking a little bit lower, guys like Boone Logan, Oliver Perez, Tony Sipp, Zach Duke, Jerry Blevins, Jake Diekman and Justin Wilson are other intriguing left-handed options on the free agent market. There’s also sure to be plenty of trade candidates, including but not limited to Adam Conley, Matt Strahm and Richard Bleier. The point is, if the Red Sox ever wanted to add a lefty to their bullpen, this year presents the most options in recent memory.
Ultimately, I don’t think adding a southpaw will be any sort of primary concern for the Red Sox this winter. I say that mostly because, well, it hasn’t been a primary concern for them at any point in the Dave Dombrowski era. That being said, I also won’t be surprised if they add one. Craig Kimbrel is the top reliever on the market this year, and I certainly believe Boston will be in the market to bring him back. If they miss out on him, however, many of the other top options throw from the left side. The Red Sox should certainly be in the market for a top reliever this winter, and if that reliever just so happens to be a lefty, all the better.