With many relievers hitting free agency, the Red Sox need to capitalize on the market to build a deep bullpen to avoid issues that they faced last season.
It was not a secret this season that the Boston Red Sox had trouble in the bullpen. When elite closer Craig Kimbrel went down with an injury, it was a revolving door of relievers that stepped up and found a way to either stop the bleeding or to hold the lead that was given to them.
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Coming into this offseason, the free agent market has some value to it when it comes to pitchers for the first time in what seems like a lifetime. A deep list is full of those undervalued, and in a Moneyball style day of research I found a few players available through free agency that could help the Red Sox in not only depth but also in areas where they need help. Here is who the Sox could take a look at:
Drew Storen: A former closer, Storen showed signs of brilliance during his time with the Nationals. A closer that had a solid K/9 in Washington but eventually fell off the map when he left the Nats. He has had little success in Seattle and Toronto in a competing closer role, something that he struggled with in Washington when he and Tyler Clippard duked it out for the closer role. I think a change of scenery would be something good for Storen, and where better to try and bring a career back to life than Boston.
Sep 8, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Drew Storen during his time with Washington. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Despite the Red Sox recent history of signing certain relievers (see: Andrew Bailey, Eric Gagne, Joel Hanrahan), it is possible they could sign Storen for roughly $5-8 million. Probably even less than that, but the median of his career shows he would be in that area. He wouldn’t be cheap, but as free agency goes on his name becomes cheaper and cheaper and he will be quickly overlooked due to recent struggles. He’s worth a look, especially if Kimbrel goes down to injury again.
Sep 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Greg Holland during his time with Kansas City Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
If Holland is all the way back to his pre-Tommy John days then his stock in the market grows. The two time All-Star in ’13 and ’14 and World Series champion in 2015 has an impressive resume to show, and has proven to be a stopper in times of need for a team that was in total control of the American League Central. It’s easy to say he would be a huge asset helping out Kimbrel and Carson Smith to finish games, but his role would be unknown when it comes to where he would fit. He can be a filler for Kimbrel if something happens, but him playing as the other setup man with Smith could bring problems. He has expressed he would like to be “the guy”, so the only problem with this is if he accepts the role as being second in command, which may not go over well with someone who has been primarily a closer for their career.
Luke Hochevar: Another former Royal reliever, Hochevar is a converted starter turned reliever. He posted really bad numbers as a starter, allowing a league-high 118 runs in 2012. His first year out of the bullpen he posted a below two ERA, and has been a dependable (but not dominant) presence in a good Royals bullpen. On top of that, he throws pretty hard, averaging in the mid to upper 90’s. However, the Royals declined his option, making him fair game for free agency.
A pitcher that missed the entire 2014 season due to a UCL tear, which prompted a Tommy John tear, Hochevar has never seen any time with anyone else in the majors. He never made the big bucks, but Hochevar is probably expecting in the two-year roughly $4 million area. He’s undervalued and hasn’t been talked about much this offseason, which is big if you’re looking to stay quiet. Safely sliding under the radar could be this signing if Boston gives the money, and the spot to take the sixth or seventh inning night in and night out.
Joe Blanton: I cringe at the thought of Blanton pitching in Boston, but its undeniable that he is efficient. At 36, Blanton has shown he can be a huge asset in the bullpen, posting a sub two ERA and a sub three ERA in back-to-back seasons. While he doesn’t have big velocity like Hochevar, Blanton is able to get outs with a starter’s arsenal.
Joe Blanton during his time with the Phillies. Credit: USA Today
Aside from his age, one potential concern is his low 32.5% groundball rate, and in a park where the left field wall parades the idea of hitting fly ball doubles, that is not a good thing to carry. Regardless of that, his value is something that should be acknowledged. His $4 million dollar contact from the Dodgers last season is a reasonable value for him, but I think the Sox could get him for a little cheaper at $3.5 million. A low risk, high reward scenario with the sample that has been given.
If the bullpen comes back healthy, which is likely, the Sox will have Kimbrel anchoring as closer. A healthy Smith would act as setup man along with Joe Kelly. After those three, a slew of pitchers who can bounce from the 40-man roster to the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox are there. Robbie Ross, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Fernando Abad, and Robby Scott are the true middle relievers with the dual man Clay Buchholz sitting in the weird limbo of having no role.
I always say too much bullpen is never a bad problem, and if the Red Sox capitalize on any of the players above they would have sufficient depth when it comes to late inning arms. How they will fix their bullpen will be an interesting situation this Winter, and I can’t wait to see how they solve it.