For as long as I have considered the question of who the Red Sox should acquire at the trade deadline. have said they should acquire a “proven closer.” I think it is important for the team to have two people who can close games if Craig Kimbrel gets hurt, and while Matt Barnes (or whoever) could just as easily transition into the role, I’ve said I’d prefer someone who has logged some saves elsewhere.
The idea a closer can be “proven” is one of considerable debate among people who want to argue about these things, because no one can become a “proven closer” without closing some games, and if no one can close games unless they’re “proven,” how do you even get there? Rather than open this particular Pandora’s Box, I’ll just say that bullpen pitchers have made it very clear that they prefer defined roles to ambiguous ones, and if they want it, I want it too.
Or I did for a while, but not anymore because I now think the Red Sox should go get Padres lefty Matt Strahm, who is not a “proven closer.” This will never happen because the Padres will insist on trading Brad Hand, the closer who is probably a more realistic trade target, definitely a better pitcher right now and certainly not flying under the radar. They want to get a hefty return for him, and then maybe then repeat the process with Strahm -- who they got this offseason from the Royals and seem to be grooming for a larger bullpen role, i.e., being the star of the 2019.
What my theory presupposes is, why not just get him now?
First off, i the Sox are going to trade for a reliever, it ought to be a lefty, and for the most part those are the targets: Hand, Raisel Iglesias, and, if only in my mind, Strahm. The team is perpetually short on lefty relievers albeit not too bad for it, though one can imagine it might be a bigger deal in the playoffs. Joe Kelly has shown signs of frailty recently, and it’s probably best if he’s not your only southpaw.*
* Here is the Bobby Poyner reference. So here’s my theory: Between Poyner and William Cuevas and Ryan Brasier and more, I think the Sox believe these relievers can be effective if they face big-league hitters a handful of times and no more, at least not reliably. They ask them to do what they can do, and the next time an arm is needed go to someone different because they will have the advantage of being fresh. I think they consider the pitchers more or less interchangeable, and being composed of one bullpen spot. If I’m wrong, so be it, but it would be best for the Sox if I wasn’t: It has worked.
But anyway, the first thing you notice if you dig into the numbers is Hand is amazing. He strikes out more than 13 guys per nine innings! Strahm can’t touch that, but I’m locked into him now, so we’ll lurch forward. He’s almost at 9Ks per nine, which is fine, but not Hand-worthy. So I guess what I’m saying is: If the Sox want to be cheap, Strahm (who’s on the minimum salary, unlike Hand, who’s making a reasonable nearly $7 million per year) is the guy to get.
I will be the first to admit that it’s not Dave Dombrowski’s style. Nor is it the style for the Red Sox to make a deal with the Padres and only sample the lighter fare. But with no deals happening on a team that keeps winning, you can kick the can down the road a little bit. How far can we kick it until Strahm rounds into an acceptable substitute for Hand at half the price? My theory is that we’re already far enough down the road. Hand’s FIP is 3.13. Strahm’s is 3.41. If that third of a run is going to cost the Sox a pretty penny, it might be best to keep it. Sometimes the next best thing is good enough.