As the Red Sox continue to lead the American League East, defying expectations most had for this roster coming into the season, the bullpen has been a big reason why the team has played so well. This relief corps, which ranks fourth in fWAR and third in park-adjusted ERA, has been an underrated part in this team’s seemingly unmatched ability to pull off comebacks, keeping games within reach just long enough for the offense to strike. Boston’s 20-11 record in one-run games is one of the best in all of baseball, and bullpens are typically the number one reason a team can keep that kind of run going. The Red Sox have a strong group of relievers who have been mostly consistent for a few months now, so conventional wisdom would say they have enough in this area.
Of course, conventional wisdom in the baseball world also states you can never have enough pitching, and that’s particularly true for a World Series contender and their bullpen. It never hurts to add another reliever, because it would be pushing out the last guy in the unit, not one of the core pieces. Just as was the case yesterday when we talked about first base, the Cubs have the top target at this position as well, and he also has ties to the Red Sox just as Anthony Rizzo did. Unlike yesterday, I do not have a target who is on a similar tier to Kimbrel, as Santana was and is with Rizzo. Instead, I’m going down a tier for this bullpen target, but he’s still a good fit nonetheless.
We’re talking about Daniel Bard today, which you know if you read the headline and saw that big picture at the top of the page. The righty, of course, has his own ties to the Red Sox, having come up in the organization way back in 2009 and immediately becoming one of the most feared relievers in baseball. We all know the story after that. Boston tried to convert Bard to a starting role, it didn’t work out, and he was never the same after that. (There were signs of slowing down before that, and that summary is an oversimplification, but that’s the bullet points.)
If you haven’t been paying attention to Colorado Rockies baseball the last couple of years, however, you may have missed Bard’s comeback, which has been one of the best stories around the league since the start of 2020. He made his way into the Rockies bullpen last summer, getting his first time on a major-league mound since 2013 when he was still with the Red Sox. And it wasn’t just that he made it back. Bard was legitimately good, pitching to a 3.65 ERA with a FIP just one hundredth of a point off that ERA. He even made his way into the ninth inning, serving as the Rockies closer to finish out the year.
So, Bard went from a really cool story to, again, being a legitimate late-inning arm in this league. And this season, having just turned 36 years old in June, the righty is performing well yet again. Although he’s watched his walk rate climb a bit, Bard is also striking out more batters than he did last summer, getting his rate up above 28 percent so far this season. In all, he’s pitched to a 3.98 ERA over 40 2⁄3 innings, but his peripherals suggest his should be better, both for the strikeouts and his ability to keep the ball in the yard. And in terms of stuff, he seems to be a lot like the guy we last saw dominate in Boston all those years ago, throwing a fastball sitting in the 97 mph range along with his frisbee slider, inducing whiffs on over 40 percent of swings this season.
All of that said, the argument for Bard is also an argument for the Red Sox bullpen. As I said above, they have a strong group, but it never hurts to add more. It’s just about what kind of pitcher you add. In Kimbrel, they’d be adding a new closer, which would certainly not be a bad thing but would also cost a lot more. With Bard, he’d be sliding right into the setup mix, right alongside Adam Ottavino, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Darwinzon Hernandez, with Matt Barnes still retaining his closer role. Again, adding a closer wouldn’t necessarily be something I’d take a stand strongly against, but it’s also not necessary.
Bard would essentially be able to spell Ottavino, which could be a very important thing down the stretch. It’s no secret that in today’s modern era of the game, bullpens become much more important in the postseason when managers are more aggressive in taking out their starters. Both Ottavino and Bard are in the back half of their 30s, and both are over 40 innings so far this season. By adding someone like Bard, Alex Cora would have one more arm to give both of those guys rest and keep them as fresh as possible for what they hope will be a long postseason run, in which they’d likely need a lot of high-stress innings from those guys.
And it really comes down to cost. Bard is a a Capital-C closer, and he is under team control for next year as well, with one more year of arbitration eligibility. That said, 2022 will also be his age-37 season, and his command is seemingly starting to take a bit of a hit as the season goes on. The Red Sox would have to give up something here, but they wouldn’t be breaking the bank in their farm system. You could probably look at some of the fringier 40-man players as big parts of this package, whether it be a Marcus Wilson or a Jonathan Araúz, or somebody else, and throw in some interesting but not elite younger prospects as well to get something done, far less than what they would need to acquire someone like Kimbrel.
I would certainly never argue against being as aggressive as possible, especially for a team like the Red Sox who are near the top of the entire league as the deadline approaches. That said, there are other paths. And while the Red Sox bullpen could really use another body to save arms for the postseason run, they can settle for a second-tier guy. And Bard fits that mold, while also having connections to this organization already. It’s at least worth a check in to see how much it would cost, and would potentially be the kind of lower-profile move that can pay huge dividends in October.