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Offseason Preview: Relief Pitching Breakdown

A look at all things bullpen as the offseason heats up

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

With the offseason really getting underway as free agents are eligible to sign with other teams, we are going to spend some time looking at where the Red Sox stand with each positional group. We’ll look at catchers, infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relief pitchers. For each group, we’ll highlight the current projected starters, the projected depth, the prospects, the free agents with an emphasis on those who best fit as well as some trade candidates. Then at the end I’ll pick what I think the most likely scenario is. Today we will go over the relief pitchers.


Brandon Workman

As the roster stands right now, Workman is the Red Sox closer just as he was to close out this past season. There are legitimate questions about just how much of his performance he can carry into 2019 — the BABIP and home run rate aren’t going to stay that low — but there is real reason to believe he can be very good, even if the top relief spot on a contender might be a bit much.

Matt Barnes

Barnes had a disappointing 2019, but even with that his elite strikeout stuff is enough to keep him as a viable late-inning option for a good team. He needs his walk rate to come down if he’s going to be a true top-level weapon in high leverage situations, but we know the talent is there.

Josh Taylor

Taylor made a name for himself as a rookie in 2019 and gave the Red Sox big innings down the stretch last season. If the southpaw’s control can stay as sharp moving forward as it was in 2019 then the future late-inning lefty for this team might not be the one most expect.

Darwinzon Hernandez

Hernandez is the one most expect. We saw why he was a top prospect in the system heading into last year despite a likely relief profile as his stuff was mind-blowing. We also saw the control issues that pushed him out of the rotation in the first place and could derail his path to stud reliever as well.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Marcus Walden

Walden was the breakout star in this bullpen for the first couple months of the season before falling off a bit in the second half. I’m not as high as some and don’t see him as a real building block in the bullpen, but as a fifth or sixth option who can go multiple innings when needed there is a role for him in this league.

Ryan Brasier

Brasier took a big step back from his 2018 and spent some time in Pawtucket in the middle of the year after starting the season as the bullpen’s number two. Ideally, he won’t be part of the Opening Day bullpen if everyone is healthy.

Heath Hembree

Hembree is what he is, which is to say he can have success against righties, will have some stretches where he looks really good but ultimately is derailed by homers and a general lack of command. He’s a clear non-tender candidate this winter.


Colten Brewer

Brewer had some helium heading into last season, but his control just wasn’t good enough to make it work at the highest level. With some adjustments he can be something, but we need to see it before we can believe it.

Travis Lakins

Lakins needs to miss a few more bats, but he also is just getting started as a major leaguer. I think he can be Marcus Walden 2.0, which is fine but not super exciting.

Josh Osich

Osich is the first new addition to the team this winter as a waiver claim from the White Sox. He’s shown an ability to adjust his approach year after year and should provide plenty of innings from the left side even if he starts the year in Pawtucket.

Bobby Poyner

Poyner totally lost his control both in the majors and in Triple-A last season, and if he can’t recover from that he’s in trouble. The lefty doesn’t have the stuff to succeed with a lack of control.

Trevor Kelley

Kelley put up huge numbers in Triple-A and has a deceptive submarine release. That said, he strikes me as the kind of guy whose skills won’t translate to the highest level and could be a DFA candidate if room is needed on the 40-man.


The prospects below are listed in the order in which they are ranked on Sox Prospects.

Durbin Feltman

Feltman was probably the most disappointing prospect in the system last year. The expectation was for him to be ready by midseason for a big league role, but instead he failed to make it out of Portland. He could be a post-hype guy this year, if such a thing exists for reliever prospects.

Eduard Bazardo

Bazardo will likely be on the 40-man roster by the end of the week, as discussed earlier today. The righty isn’t super imposing on the mound but his stuff plays in shorter stints.

Yoan Aybar

Aybar is another Rule 5 protection candidate with big stuff. He is more raw than Bazardo and further away from the majors, but he could be a fast riser.

Joan Martinez

Martinez is a sleeper to keep an eye on this year as he’ll likely make his way up to the upper minors. He was having a great year in Salem before going down with injury and failing to get back to his previous level upon his return.

Yoelvis Guedez

Guedez was an under-the-radar signing at the end of the 2017 international signing period, but he was dominant this past year in the GCL and is another sleeper who could make a big leap in perception with more innings.

Zach Schellenger

Schellenger was another major disappointment from last year. A total lack of control prevented him from making an impact in the majors, and in fact resulted in a demotion to High-A.

A.J. Politi

Politi doesn’t have a huge ceiling unless he makes a major adjustment to fix his command issues, but his stuff is good enough that he’ll, at the very least, end up knocking on the door to the majors.

Brendan Cellucci

Cellucci was a 2019 draftee with a big fastball from the left side that brought him some success in Lowell. The real test will be full-season ball starting next year.

Osvaldo de la Rosa

de la Rosa is a converted catcher who just started affiliated ball this past year as a 22-year-old. He looked good in the DSL and in Lowell, but at his age he needs to show it in full-season ball before we really buy in.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Free Agents

You can see the full list of free agents, which I will not list out here, on MLB Trade Rumors.

Best Fits

Dellin Betances, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Chris Martin, Fernando Rodney, Sergio Romo, Arodys Vizcaino, Nick Vincent, Tyler Thornburg*, Drew Pomeranz

*Just seeing if you’re paying attention

In my eyes, the Red Sox would be best served if they add two relievers this winter, one being a relatively big name for the back-end and another buy-low. You can never have too many relievers, and they have enough guys with options to make room for two new arms, particularly with the added roster spot. There’s a good mix of options listed above, and I think I’m intrigued by a Betances and Vizcaino combination.

Trade Targets

Mychal Givens, BAL; Alex Colomé, CHW; Kelvin Herrera, CHW; Evan Marshall, CHW; Ian Kennedy, KC; Hansel Robles, LAA; Cam Bedrosian, LAA; Blake Treinen, OAK; Ken Giles, TOR; Keone Kela, PIT; Kyle Crick, PIT; Tony Watson, SFG

The list of available relievers is always massive, and there is absolutely no way I have listed all of the relievers that could or will change hands this winter. Nor is there no way everyone listed will be traded or even be available. That said, there are some intriguing names here. Treinen could be a good buy-low candidate who is only one year removed from being among the best relievers in the game and could be getting expensive for Oakland. Giles is the best name, but an intra-division trade with this much talent being exchanged is always hard to pull off. Kennedy would be a good name whose salary would make him cheap in terms of prospects, but the Red Sox aren’t going to be that kind of team this winter.

Most Likely Scenario

I think the Red Sox probably sign a good-not-great reliever and then trade for a lesser-known name. The latter is probably someone not even listed above, and I’ll say make a play for Betances on a pillow deal in free agency.