There’s really not much to complain with regards to this Red Sox team. They are on pace to be one of the very best teams in regular season history, and even after Wednesday’s loss they have won a whopping 70.5 percent of their games and have won 50 more games than they’ve lost. That seems good! Even the bullpen, which is the portion of the roster that gets the most negative ink these days, isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. Things are good.
However, things are not perfect and I’ve thought there has been a better way to build the roster pretty much all year. Now, obviously the Red Sox have done just fine with their own roster-building strategy, and they may be smarter than me. It’s up for debate! (It’s not.) Either way, they haven’t really had a lefty in the bullpen all year. Brian Johnson did spend a significant amount of time in relief, but he was not in a role that emphasized his handedness. Now, Drew Pomeranz finds himself in a similar role. In the postseason when things can become more specialized, they’d probably be better off with a true left-handed reliever. With that in mind, they should give Bobby Poyner another shot now to see if he’s someone they could trust in October.
It’s been kind of a weird season for Poyner, who has almost entirely fallen off the radar after being one of the biggest pop-up names of spring training. After a monster 2017 that made him known among some of the fans who follow the minors, he made a name for himself among the general fanbase with a standout performance in the Grapefruit League. Somewhat surprisingly, it was enough to earn him an Opening Day roster spot. He looked pretty solid over the first week or two of the season, but then was forced to throw an extended outing before being sent down for a fresh arm. That’s always a little frustrating for a pitcher, but it happens and the thought was he’d be back soon enough. Well, he had two other very short stints in the first half and....that’s all we’ve seen of Poyner in the majors.
More than anything, it seems Poyner has been a victim of the Red Sox success. He’s performed well enough that you would think he wouldn’t be stashed in Triple-A, and that’s after performing admirably in the majors. Unfortunately for him, the Red Sox have had a lot of other good relievers taking up space in their bullpen, and they’ve opted to hold on to depth rather than let pitchers go to make room for someone who could possibly be a marginal upgrade. Again, it’s hard to criticize their thought process too much considering how things have worked out so far. That being said, Poyner has been good. He only has 10 2⁄3 major-league innings, but in them he has a 1.69 ERA with ten strikeouts and just one walk. In the minors, he’s pitched to a 2.23 ERA over 36 1⁄3 innings with 33 strikeouts and nine walks. Those aren’t dominant, future closer numbers, but they are numbers that deserve another chance in the majors.
The issue with getting Poyner on the roster is, well, finding room on the roster. As I said, the Red Sox have been doing everything in their power to preserve depth, and there aren’t many pitchers with options left in the bullpen. By all accounts, Hector Velazquez is likely to be demoted on Friday to make room for Ian Kinsler, taking one option off the board. Ryan Brasier is the other out-of-options possibility, but he has taken on an important role in the bullpen. I can’t see him getting sent down unless it’s just a few days before September when he’d just stay with the team until rosters expand anyway.
That leaves just one other option, and it goes against the preserving depth option. That is to have Poyner take Pomeranz’ spot on the roster and in the bullpen. Now, to be fair to Pomeranz, he had looked better in his new role in the bullpen until his rough outing on Wednesday. However, he mostly just looked better in terms of numbers. The stuff hasn’t really ticked up as we have hoped. The velocity is still down in the 80s, and the command is still too inconsistent to really have confidence. At this point, I simply can’t imagine a scenario in which Pomeranz is someone who will be trusted in the postseason, and as an upcoming free agent who does’t have a role this year and likely won’t have a roster spot next year, I don’t see the point of keeping him around. It makes me feel sad because Pomeranz was such a big part of the 2017 team, but there’s just no reason to keep carrying him right now.
Instead, that spot would be better used to see if Poyner can be someone they can trust. Now, as I said above the team has felt comfortable without a lefty all year, and it’s been mostly fair. When you think of the most fearsome hitters in the American League, they pretty much all hit from the right side. Well, for one thing Poyner can perform against righties as well, though he obviously wouldn’t be too high on the depth chart in these situations. More importantly, there are good lefties in the league. The Yankees have Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird. The Astros have Josh Reddick. The Indians have Michael Brantley, Yonder Alonso, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez, the latter of whom is a switch hitter but has been significantly worse against lefties this year. The A’s have Matt Olson. The Mariners have Dee Gordon and Kyle Seager. Again, these aren’t the best hitters in their lineups (except Ramirez) but having someone for a potential postseason matchup against them is better than the alternative.
Ultimately, I’m probably screaming into the void on this one, because if the Red Sox felt they needed a lefty we would have seen Poyner or Robby Scott by now. I can’t see them giving up on Pomeranz after keeping him around all year, either. Their logic would be that they can see what Poyner can provide in September, but that will come against watered down expanded rosters. If they really want to test the southpaw, let him face some good lineups in the second half of August. Poyner isn’t going to be the difference between a championship and an early exit, but the most efficient roster includes him in the bullpen.