Look, I am a complainer by nature. Even when things are good, I am the girl sitting in the background saying, “Well they could always be better.” Maybe it’s the decade I was born or some underlying psychological condition, but the fact is that if I see something that I think is worth complaining about, I am never going to miss an opportunity to complain about it.
Today, I’d like to complain about Dave Dombrowski. Yup, that Dave Dombrowski. The same guy who built a historically dominant team that won a World Series in 2018. Great job. It really was fun to watch and I enjoyed every second of it (except the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS). I love the 2018 team and I know I probably will never see another team like that in my lifetime. And yes, Dombrowski deserves all the credit in the world for bringing Chris Sale, David Price and J.D. Martinez to Boston — three instrumental pieces of last year’s team. But that was last year and I am here to complain about right now.
Here’s what I want to complain about: List of relievers the Red Sox have signed so far this offseason — Carson Smith, Zach Putnam (no MLB appearances since 2017 due to injury), Erasmo Ramirez (10 appearances for Seattle last year) and Ryan Weber (3 MLB appearances since 2016) — all to minor-league deals. List of relievers the Red Sox have not signed — Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, Joakim Soria, Cody Allen, etc., etc.
That’s a problem, even for a team coming off winning a World Series. Everyone in the bullpen will get their ring, and rightfully so, but we all know why the 2018 team was historically successful. It started with offense and ended with the rotation. I think the bullpen as a whole will end up being an afterthought in this championship run. Even in the postseason where a solid bullpen is a necessity, 28% of the relief innings were chewed up by starters. In the second half of the regular season, Red Sox relievers ranked 19th in the league in ERA (4.28), 22nd in FIP (4.46) and 23rd in HR/9 with 1.23. In addition, Boston’s bullpen allowed the fourth most walks in the second half with 122.
Kelly wasn’t the best reliever to sign a new deal this offseason. He wasn’t even the best reliever in Boston not named Kimbrel. But the guy gave 65.2 innings of relief last season. Boston is losing 128 relief innings that they had a year ago if Kimbrel isn’t re-signed. To not replace that type of loss seems like a mistake. (Obviously, there’s still a chance that Kimbrel does re-sign, but I don’t think that changes the need for another reliever).
Maybe Dombrowski just simply doesn’t value bullpen arms like most of the league does. He’s had his documented issues of not being able to build a dominant major-league bullpen. Fox Sports referred to it as his one critical flaw over 14 seasons in Detroit. He didn’t go after a big-name reliever prior to the trade deadline last season, even though the general consensus seemed to be that he should. He hasn’t signed any of the big-name relief options available so far this offseason, even after losing one major bullpen piece (and possibly another). Maybe Dombrowski is just playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Who knows.
I have found a few things to be optimistic about here and one of them is the expected rise of Durbin Feltman. You’d have to think that the Sox not bringing in a myriad of MLB ready relievers this offseason might aid a quicker ascent to Boston for Feltman. Unfortunately, it may end up being a necessity as opposed to a luxury. Feltman has long been viewed as the 2018 draftee who could reach the majors the fastest — and I have already started to get excited about what this kid can offer. He had a solid first year in the minors — finishing the season with Salem in the Carolina League. All in all, He struck out about 38% of the batters he faced in 23.1 innings pitched. The Red Sox also have a few other potential options in the minors in Darwinzon Hernandez and Travis Lakins. The performance of all three in Spring Training is definitely something to keep an eye on.
All this talk about what Boston has lost out on so far and I haven’t even mentioned what the Sox will bring back. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier were both somewhat of a surprise last year and played a significant role in the World Series run — especially when Kimbrel was struggling. Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg and Hector Velazquez will all likely find their way into some role in the bullpen — giving the Sox a solid foundation. As Matt Collins mentioned not too long ago, they could conceivably get by without an addition to the bullpen, but that’s assuming a lot of things go right.
I have a propensity to believe that a lot of things may not go right. And if things don’t go right, the Red Sox will be in a tough spot with all the offensive talent in the world and a lackluster bullpen. That might not be enough to win another championship unfortunately. I know it’s far too early to even bet on what might plague the Red Sox most next season. I am just getting an early start on the “I told you so” articles in case it does end up being the current bullpen situation.