Now, the Boston Red Sox are in a tough situation. Last year, it was discussed at times how the depth of the Red Sox’ bullpen could become an issue in 2019.
Last year, it was discussed at times how the depth of the Boston Red Sox bullpen behind Craig Kimbrel and Matt Barnes could become an issue. Despite this, Boston made a series of questionable decisions with respect to their relief staff.
First off, they let Craig Kimbrel walk.
In a vacuum, not a terrible decision. He had struggled at times late, and his contractual demands were inane, to put it mildly.
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Additionally, they also did not re-sign Joe Kelly. While Kelly would not have been mistaken for “Goose” Gossage at any point during his career, he did lead Boston’s relief pitchers in innings pitched and appearances, showing that he could be an effective innings-eater out of the bullpen during a pennant race.
He was lost to LA in free agency. Zack Britton, Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, David Robertson, and more were all available as free agents this offseason, and Boston failed to lock down a single one.
This, despite the fact that:
- all of these guys (except Familia) were still free agents when Boston lost Kelly and reportedly resigned themselves to the notion that Kimbrel would not return, and
- none of these guys made more than $13 million AAV on their new deals.
Now, Boston is eating that decision.
With the exception of Brandon Workman, Boston’s main relievers have been horrible for the last few weeks. The last two times the Boston Red Sox allowed fewer than four runs in back-to-back games were 6/14-15 (@ Baltimore), and 6/4-5 (vs. Kansas City) – arguably two of the three worst teams in baseball. Before that, you have to go back to May 19-20 (Houston & Toronto).
Since then, they have lost 4.5 games in the standings, despite a 25-20 record in that stretch. This team is only as good as its weakest link, and since June 18, the team’s pen is 14th in WAR in the AL, ahead of only Kansas City and behind some of the worst teams in baseball – like Toronto, Baltimore, Detroit, Seattle.
They have either graduated or traded most of their prospects in the last few years, or some of them simply didn’t pan out. As a result, that is not a viable path toward any super impactful acquisitions this summer.
Therefore, it becomes necessary for the Boston Red Sox to get creative and potentially explore additions where they could offset that lack of farm capital by swallowing some financial commitment. Of course, it doesn’t help that the team already has over $225 million committed to its current roster this season.
Rick Porcello, Mitch Moreland, Steven Pearce, Brock Holt, and Eduardo Nunez are all FA-eligible after this season. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are two key names who will both be eligible after that.
If Boston wants to keep Betts, they have to be prepared for the realistic possibility that it will cost them between $35-$40 million annually. In doing so, that’s money that is not going toward improving the club in other areas, for a club that might be the sixth-best team in the AL right now as-is and other teams likely to improve in the next few months to a year.
This is why I would strongly suggest Boston pursue a name like Tony Watson. Relief pitching has to be their main target, and I believe they simply don’t have the prospect capital to beat out other teams for a Will Smith or Kirby Yates (assuming he’s even moved).
Plus, his monetary commitment ($6+ million in base plus incentives) could make it possible for Boston to offer that they’d eat some of that if San Francisco is willing to take a lesser prospect – an arrangement that could appeal to a team like SF that has been near the top of the league in “cost per win” for most of the last several years, because their bloated payrolls have been the definition of “throwing good money after bad” their front office continues to resist and ignore cues and signs that their window of contention is slammed shut, indirect demonstration of the oft-attributed Einsteinian quote defining insanity.
Additionally, Watson’s K/BB rate of 7.25 was 7th among 156 relief pitchers with at least 30 IP this season, to go along with a 1.17 WHIP, .265 AVG, and 87.8% LOB. It would entrench him as probably the 3rd-best option behind Matt Barnes, but that’s what happens when you don’t have the prospects to pony up and still want to be financially frugal: you sacrifice your capacity to improve.
The need for a bolstering move in the bullpen is intensified by their starters’ recent struggles. Boston recently finalized an acquisition of Andrew Cashner from Baltimore, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough to combat the recent struggles of Chris Sale (last four starts: 21.1 IP, 29 H, 18 ER, 6 BB, 30 K, 6 HR, 7.59 ERA), and Rick Porcello (last three starts: 12 IP, 22 H, 17 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 3 HR, 12.75 ERA), let alone make up for the aforementioned bullpen deficiencies.
At this point, Boston could conceivably make up the three-game deficit behind Tampa Bay for the top wild-card slot. The problem being, it’s just as easy to see them and their currently-constructed pitching staff not be able to overcome the likes of Cleveland and Oakland, and become the 10th team in the last 16 years to fail to qualify for postseason play, thereby putting immense pressure on the front office this coming offseason when they stand to lose five contributors and watch six others (including the face of their franchise) enter their respective walk years.