We are now only eight days away from the trade deadline, and pieces are already starting to move. Manny Machado is out of the AL East and is as far away as possible out in the NL West. The reliever market — one in which Boston is expected to be involved — is also starting to move. Jeurys Familia was a potential Red Sox target, but he was shipped off to Oakland. Brad Hand was more of a pie-in-the-sky possibility, but that was taken off the board when he and teammate Adam Cimber were dealt to Cleveland. Now, Zach Britton’s market is starting to heat up. Boston is in on him, but so is every other contender, which is not good news for the Red Sox.
As we all know by this point, this team does not have a great farm system. That can be a bit overblown, as it really only takes them out of the top-end of any given market. Based on the moves that have been made thus far for both Familia and Kelvin Herrera back in June, the Red Sox have more than enough to get a top-level rental reliever. The same should be true for a rental of any position, even if they’ll cost a bit more. That said, when we start to get into wide-ranging bidding wars as the Britton market appears to be heading, the Red Sox don’t have as many pieces they can use to move to the front of that pack. If Britton moves elsewhere, there are still guys like Joakim Soria and Fernando who are relatively high-profile and well within Boston’s price range. I think it could be smart to go more under the radar, though, and focus some attention on infield and/or rotation help as well. Specifically, Ryan Pressly could be the reliever to target while the rest of the league seemingly focuses on closers.
Pressly is not a big name and he is not the type of player that is going to get the fanbase excited. Of course, Dave Dombrowski should be focused on building the best team, not getting anyone excited. If you’re not excited by this team, well, that’s a you problem. What Pressly lacks in name value he makes up for in on-the-field value. The Twins righty has been phenomenal this year. Through 49 appearances and 46 innings of work, he has pitched to a 3.52 ERA, a 3.03 FIP and a 1.85 DRA. That last number is 58 percent better than league-average and puts him on par with relievers like Soria, Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and some guy name Chris Sale.
Now, you do have to buy into DRA (learn about it here) for this one to get really excited, but it’s not just half-season of being good in one particular metric. For one thing, the 3.03 FIP is pretty damn good in its own right, coming in 28 percent better than league-average, putting him in the same tier as Kimbrel and Chad Green. He’s also gotten markedly better at missing bats this year, with his strikeout rate jumping from about one per inning to over 13 per nine innings. This doesn’t seem to be a fluke, as he has upped his swinging strike rate from 27 percent to 39 percent, per Baseball Prospectus. For a little context, of the 349 pitchers who have thrown at least 500 pitches this season, only seven have missed more bats. That, combined with an increased swing rate (particularly on pitches out of the zone) will keep leading to strikeouts. When you throw in a groundball rate around 50 percent on a yearly basis, you have a strong late-inning arm.
So, it’s not just DRA, and it’s also not the case of being a one-year wonder. Instead, it’s Pressly going from being a good reliever and making the leap to a great one. The righty had been a solid member of the Twins relief corps for three or four years prior to this, depending on what metrics you want to use. As I said above, he’s never been this good, but he’s posted ERAs, FIPs and DRAs in the 3.00’s fairly consistently over his career. His velocity is still climbing, too, sitting at 96 to go with a 90 mph slider and a slower curveball.
As far as cost goes, Pressly won’t be terribly cheap, but he also doesn’t have the kind of high-profile success that will raise his price. The righty does have control through the 2019 season, which will up his cost, but he also has just one career save and has never really been thought of as a closer-type before. That should only help Dombrowski, even if Pressly has pitched like an elite reliever this year. He could cost something similar to Herrera given the extra year of control, but that was not a package that hurts too much. The Red Sox could also work to make this a bigger deal, as Minnesota’s Brian Dozier would be an intriguing second base target as well. A Pressly/Dozier package would probably be more costly than some expect, but it would go a long way towards taking this team to the next level.
I still think Britton would be the best target for the Red Sox given their left-handedness, but if they miss on him I think they should focus their high-end talks elsewhere and get a less popular reliever target. Pressly fits that bill, even if it’s undeserved. The righty (who has been better against lefties over his career) would fit in perfectly with Kimbrel and Matt Barnes late in games and help bring this bullpen up a notch. That he should also free up an asset or two to address other needs — whether it be in a package or a separate deal — is only a bonus.