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Offseason Target: Blake Treinen

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The Yankees are interested. The Red Sox should be, too.

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I don’t know that it’s fair to say the Red Sox desperately need relief help. They are returning their entire group from last season and had a solid performance from those guys in 2019. There is also a reasonable expectation for improvement simply from having full seasons of guys like Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernandez on the major-league roster. Obviously nothing is guaranteed, but it’s certainly not impossible to talk yourself into the group as it is currently formed.

That said, it is also fair to say this is far from an elite group as it is currently formed, and that’s even with relatively optimistic projections. If you throw in the possibility of regression from someone like Brandon Workman and the league adjusting to the likes of Taylor and Hernandez, well, things get dicier. So, the Red Sox may not need relief help, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little more. The thing about bullpens, particularly with rosters expanding by one spot in 2020, is that there’s always room for one more. Just ask the Yankees, who have been stacking elite or near-elite arms at the back of their ‘pen for years now.

That the Yankees come up in this conversation is not a coincidence, as the player we are talking about today is reportedly of interest to the Yankees. Oakland had been considering trading Treinen before Monday’s non-tender deadline, but instead they just went ahead and neglected to tender him a contract. In other words, the righty is now a free agent.

I’ve mentioned Treinen a couple of times this offseason, looking at potential reliever targets as well a potential match with the Athletics, but I wasn’t totally sure Oakland would want to sell. Yes, it would be selling low, but this is also a team that consistently carries a low payroll and they don’t appear to be changing that tune this winter. So, Treinen is available, and he can help the Red Sox.

Obviously, if you really want to talk up Treinen and what he can do you just look at what he did in 2018 when he was right there with Edwin Díaz and Josh Hader among the best relievers in baseball for the season. Over 80 13 innings the righty pitched to an absurd 0.78 ERA with a 1.85 FIP and a 2.22 DRA. He continued to be a groundball-oriented pitcher but all of a sudden was using that power sinker to significantly up his strikeout rate while limiting his walks at a rate like never before. It was a true breakout for a player in his age-30 season, but it wasn’t met with a ton of skepticism. I mean, you just had to watch one of his power sinkers before you bought in. He was just that good.

And then 2019 started. Whether it was fatigue or the league figuring him out or whatever other excuse there is, Treinen just straight-up wasn’t very good this past year. He still appeared in 57 games and tossed 58 23 innings on the season, but all of his numbers dropped. He ended up pitching to a 4.91 ERA, a 5.17 FIP and a 5.64 DRA. His strikeout rate fell from 32 percent to 22 percent while his walk rate rose from 6.7 percent to just under 14 percent.

So, why would the Red Sox want him? There’s a few reasons. For one thing, the stuff didn’t really go away. That power sinker he threw in 2018? It was still there. Well, mostly. The velocity fell a bit, but by less than a mph and it still sat at 96.5 mph (per Baseball Savant). The spin rate fell, but he was still in the top quarter of the league. His whiff rate was still just about as high as it was in 2018 as well. Instead, the issue was with command. In 2018, he was able to keep the ball down in the zone on a regular basis, but this past season he consistently missed on the arm side belt-high. It’s not great, but it also suggests the issue is likely mechanical rather than being due to his arm being toast.

2018
2019

Additionally, for one reason or another he moved away from his slider. This is where we get to the legitimately worrisome portion of the show, where we mention that Treinen was dealing with a nagging shoulder injury all year. That seems like a logical reason he could have moved away from the slider, because there really isn’t another explanation. While the sinker got the shine in 2018, his slider was actually his most effective offering and the one he threw at the second-highest rate. In 2019, it was his least-used pitch. It was still great but Treinen clearly didn’t feel comfortable throwing it.

There are, of course, reasons why the Red Sox and other teams would not target Treinen. The shoulder injury would lead that list, though acquiring teams obviously have a chance to get a physical done before any deal went through. Boston has had some rough luck with injuries to relievers they’ve acquired in recent years, but being scared by that for future moves is not how you do business.

It is because of the risk that Treinen makes sense, though. The Red Sox don’t want to spend a lot of money, so if they are going to get upside for cheap there are two paths to take. One is to trade for a controllable player. That would cost prospects, and even if the Red Sox did even have the prospects to get this kind of trade done it would go against that idea of “sustainable success” they tripped over themselves to mention 50 times at Chaim Bloom’s introductory presser. That leaves the other option of going after a buy-low target in free agency. Dellin Betances is one of those and now Treinen joins him as another.

The righty was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $7.5 million in arbitration, so presumably he will not cost that much in free agency. If a team was willing to pay that, they’d have swung a trade. There is obvious risk here, but as I said at the top the Red Sox don’t need a slam dunk in their bullpen. They should be swinging for the fences here in hopes that something clicks for a few months this summer. Treinen gives them a very real chance at that if he is able to get to camp healthy. That it also takes a target away from the Yankees is not a bad side effect, either.