We’ve talked in this space about a whole lot of targets over the last six weeks or so, largely because, well, what else is there to talk about, ya know? And in discussing the reliever market — a market in which the Boston Red Sox should clearly be very much involved given their lack of top-end talent on that portion of their depth chart at the moment — we’ve talked about how it’s not the best year on the free agent market. Kenley Jansen is the only “name brand” remaining on the board, and then there are good players like Ryan Tepera and Collin McHugh, but they are not Proven Closers™.
Given that lack of depth, if the Red Sox are indeed going out to look for a reliever who has pitched in the late innings for a few years consecutively now, they would probably prefer to look at the trade market. When transactions do open back up, the Oakland Athletics are expected to be the most prominent seller as they look to shed salary, and as a result of that their 2021 closer, Lou Trivino, has become one of the most mentioned names in this reliever market. But does he really make sense as a potential target for Boston?
Trivino is sort of a classic example of a late blooming reliever, being drafted as an 11th rounder by the Athletics back in 2013, originally as a starter. He spent only one full season in that role before transitioning to the bullpen, but even then there was a relatively long road to the majors. The righty made his debut in 2018 as a 26-year-old, but pretty much immediately became an important part of the Oakland bullpen.
He’s remained in that important role throughout his career, becoming the closer last season and earning 22 saves by the end of the season. Raw save totals aren’t the most descriptive way to evaluate a reliever, of course, but the underlying numbers for Trivino last year and over his career look strong, too. Over his career he’s been consistently above-average in terms of both results and peripherals, with a career 87 ERA- and 93 FIP-. In other words, after adjusting for park effects, the now-30-year-old (he’ll be 30 for the entire 2022 regular season) was 13 percent better than league-average in terms of results, and seven percent better in terms of his peripherals.
Last season, he was better than those career marks in terms of results, finishing the year with an impressive 76 ERA- with peripherals that were in line with his career norms. As I said, he was good enough to take the top bullpen job for a team that was in contention for most of the season, and on top of that he is under control for multiple years. Granted, that’s not quite as important when you’re talking about a pitcher entering his 30s, but it’s still valuable to have a guy who doesn’t hit the open market (under the current CBA, at least) for three more seasons.
Despite all of that, I’m not quite as convinced about him being a great fit for the Red Sox. As you dig deeper into his numbers, a lot of his success is built on the back of not allowing home runs and just generally succeeding on weak contact. His strikeout rate isn’t terrible, but he’s been in the low 20s with his rate in two of the last three years (his strikeout rate was 28 percent in 2020, though obviously in a shortened season), which is right around league average. He’s also consistently posted walk rates in the double digits, which is safely worse than league-average.
Clearly he’s been able to succeed with this style of pitching, but some of this stuff can be team-specific. In terms of the home runs, Fenway isn’t a huge home run park for hitters, but it’s still a bit better than Oakland’s home park, and the rest of the division is significantly better than the rest of the American League West. On top of that, Trivino’s style relies a lot on defense, and last season with an increased ground ball rate thanks to an increased usage of his changeup putting more pressure on the infield defense. That obviously is not a great fit with the Red Sox, and some of those outs would almost certainly turn to runners on base pitching in front of Boston’s defense.
As with all of these conversations, it comes down to cost. If the Athletics were giving Trivino away, then sure. Go get him. I’d be surprised if that was the case, though. Projected to make $2.9 million in arbitration, he’s not making the league minimum, but he’s also not making enough to justify a salary dump, even from an ownership group that is not interested in carrying a respectable payroll. The Red Sox wouldn’t have to give up any of their top prospects, but they’d likely have to part with some minor-league depth that could prove more valuable as second or third pieces to acquire more impact talent.
Given that Oakland is an obvious seller and that every team in baseball can always use more relief talent, I would expect the market to be relatively crowded around Trivino. And for some teams, being more aggressive there might make more sense if they can play into his relatively contact-oriented style. Boston clearly needs relief help, but unless this was part of a bigger package in which Trivino was the second player added for the Red Sox side, I think they can find a late-inning reliever who better fits their home park and the rest of their roster.