Week after week, I think to myself, “Pretty soon we’ll know what the Red Sox pitching staff ends up looking like”. Yet week after week, we have just as many questions as answers. The rotation has started to become more clear with Pivetta and Kluber moving to the bullpen, but the back end is still somewhat of a mess.
Current roster rules limit a team to 13 pitchers on the roster. With five in the rotation, that leaves eight men in the bullpen. Recently, Josh Winckowski and Kutter Crawford have been used in multi-inning roles. They’ve been great and helped nail down some wins, but it also raises questions about the rest of the pen. Multi-inning relievers are great, but they do leave the pen an arm or two short as they recover from their outings. As a result, there’s more pressure on the starters to go deep, and on those other relievers to be effective.
Take Sunday afternoon, for instance. Tanner Houck was hit around, going just four innings and allowing four runs. Winckowski and Crawford were unavailable as they had pitched multiple innings in the days leading up to the game, leaving the pen at six men. Joely Rodriguez pitched an inning and, with the Red Sox trailing by four runs, turned the game over to Nick Pivetta to clean up.
Now, imagine the Red Sox weren’t held scoreless and the game was tight. How do you get to the end of the game? After Rodriguez, you’re in the bottom of the sixth. Assuming Chris Martin and Kenley Jansen won’t pitch until the eighth and ninth if they’re even available (they each pitched an inning a day prior), your options are Nick Pivetta, Corey Kluber, and Justin Garza. In the case of Sunday, Pivetta actually pitched well which weakens my point, but that won’t always be the case, and now he’s down for a few days as well.
Every team needs a garbage man, someone to pick up the pieces when things are out of hand. Having two on the roster becomes a problem. The Red Sox don’t need innings - they need quality innings. They’re fighting for a Wild Card spot - every game counts. While no team can afford to chase wins with their bullpen when trailing by three or four runs, an extra arm would allow them to extend a game by an inning or two and give the offense a chance to put it in the hands of the high-leverage guys. So, where do we go from here? The way I see it, there are a few paths forward.
Option A: Convert Someone to a One-Inning Option
Simply put, you can’t have four long relievers in the pen. The easiest way to change that would be to have one of those long guys become a more traditional reliever. Crawford and Winckowski have both shined in that multi-inning role, making it difficult to move them from that spot, but they could see an uptick in how their stuff plays with just one inning, whereas Kluber probably doesn’t benefit much from throwing an inning at a time. Pivetta could benefit from a little extra velocity and fewer looks at his pitches.
Option B: Make a roster spot for a new reliever
The other option to maximize the bullpen output is to make a roster spot. That means finding a way to remove the redundancy of Pivetta and Kluber, be it via trade, DFA, or pretend injury. The downside is obviously losing a major leaguer with experience but there are roster restraints, and you can’t keep everyone. Chaim Bloom can’t pull a strong reliever out of thin air, but the John Schreibers of the world are out there. With an extra spot in the bullpen, Bloom can play the waiver wire or make a trade to try to find one.
With the way the bullpen is currently constructed, the likelihood of “forfeiting” games to due a lack of arms is high. There’s a scheduled double-header on Saturday, so we probably won’t have an until answer after that, but sooner or later, something needs to change to get the most out of this bullpen to help grab an extra win or two.