The Winter Meetings officially kick off today (Monday) out in Vegas, and the busiest week in baseball offseason’s can commence. There’s going to be a lot of meetings between teams and agents as well as teams and other teams to discuss trades. Players will move, rumors will swirl and connections will be made. Even if things get done next week or the week after, there’s a decent chance the groundwork was laid during the Winter Meetings. It’s a fun time to be a baseball fan if you’re into the Hot Stove season, is what I’m trying to say.
From a Red Sox perspective, the hope is that the upper levels of the reliever market start to move. Things have been relatively quiet on that front to date, with speculation that Craig Kimbrel will need to sign before the market really starts to move. The Red Sox could be involved in Kimbrel, but either way they are certainly going to be involved with the top of this market. We’ve had this discussion multiple times on this site, but I’ll say it again. My gut feeling — to be clear, this is based on nothing more than speculation with no inside information — is that they will just add one reliever and then rely on what they have. My hope, however, is that they add a couple of new names. If I were in charge (a scary thought), I would add one guy from the Kimbrel, David Robertson, Adam Ottavino trio then add a second-tier reliever along with them. From that group, we’ve discussed Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria. Today, I want to dig a little deeper and talk about an older righty leaving a fellow AL East team.
Based on the headline and that big ol’ picture at the top of this page, you surely know I’m talking about Sergio Romo. The longtime Giant and more recently Ray has seemingly been one of the most underrated players on the market this offseason. He doesn’t have a single post mentioning him on MLB Trade Rumors since October 1! Obviously, that doesn’t mean conversations haven’t taken place. We don’t hear about every discussion, and Romo isn’t exactly the kind of name where everyone is jumping to report each and every move. For all we know, he’s already close to a deal. Still, based on our very limited information it seems like Romo is somewhat forgotten right now, and that could work out to Boston’s benefit.
The veteran righty has been working late innings around the league for a long time now, first coming up with the Giants back in 2008 and quickly working his way to high-leverage roles. He was a key part of three World Series teams in San Francisco, including serving as the closer for two of those teams. Romo stayed with the Giants through the 2016 season before heading to the Dodgers and later the Rays. In his nine seasons with the Giants, he had just two years with an ERA starting with three, just three seasons with a FIP that high and just two seasons with a DRA that wasn’t more than 30 percent better than league-average. After leaving the Giants, he struggled mightily in half-a-season with the Dodgers before being sent to Tampa Bay midway through 2017 and turning it around.
This past season was anywhere from fine to very good for Romo depending on what you prefer to look at. Now, his season was somewhat high-profile for other reasons that we’ll get to in a minute, but by the numbers he posted a 4.14 ERA and a 4.07 FIP. Neither of those are all that awe-inspiring, particularly for a 35-year-old veteran. A lot of his issues came down to home runs, and those obviously can’t be tossed aside. However, it is worth mentioning he struck out ten batters per nine innings while walking fewer than three. By DRA, he was 38 percent better than the league-average pitcher, and the more predictive cFIP still had Romo as 21 percent better than league average. DRA and cFIP are, in my opinion, more reliable than any other metric, though like other metrics they are not going to be perfect for every pitcher. Your mileage may vary, as they say, on how well Romo pitched in 2018.
So, the numbers are good, but that’s not all that matters with him. Above, I alluded to something from 2018 that went beyond the numbers, and that was his impact on Tampa Bay’s Opener strategy. Romo was sort of Patient Zero with that experiment, and that was huge. Even putting aside the results in those situations, Romo simply buying into it was everything for that team. Relievers are notoriously attached to familiar roles, so young guys seeing someone as accomplished as Romo doing something so unorthodox was huge. Romo has always been a natural leader and willing to do whatever the team needs, and that’s exactly what the Red Sox could use. Obviously, most of their team is full of veterans, but with guys like Durbin Feltman, Darwinzon Hernandez and Travis Lakins hopefully coming up and starting a new era of Red Sox relievers, having a guy like Romo around certainly wouldn’t hurt.
There are obviously concerns with the veteran, beginning with his age. The righty is going to turn 36 during spring training, and he’s pitched a lot of innings over his career that has included multiple long playoff runs. Now, the flip side of the workload is that he’s been very durable over his career, but eventually that turns into a bad thing. He also has seen his velocity drop, but he’s never thrown particularly hard to begin with. Romo leans way more on his slider than his fastball, so the velocity isn’t as big of a concern. There’s also the issue that he’s spent the majority of his career in extreme pitchers’ parks, though he does have experience in AL East parks from his time with the Rays.
Like I said above, Romo wouldn’t be the top reliever I’d sign this winter. He is older, and was mostly average last season based on ERA and FIP. On the other hand, by DRA he’s been nothing but spectacular throughout his career and his strikeout-to-walk numbers were still great. Throw in his leadership qualities and he’s a guy the Red Sox should be looking at. Assuming they spend a decent chunk of money for another reliever, too, they’d be looking for a cheaper option alongside them. Romo is expected to sign for a one-year deal around $4-$5 million, and that’s exactly the kind of deal Boston could be looking at. If they want someone for that price, they’d be hard-pressed to find a better fit than Romo.