Red Sox Carson Smith may be key to 2017 bullpen decisions

The Boston Red Sox had problems moving from starting pitchers to the closer in 2016. Carson Smith‘s return may determine if the team needs outside help.

Have you ever had a home repair problem arise, so you decided to pick up something to fix it? Did you go to the store and buy a few items that you hoped would solve the issue? Then, when you get home and start to work at the repair, you start to notice other problems arising. You succeed in overcoming some of them; however, that one special tool that you specifically bought for the first problem gets put to the side and forgotten about.

You get back to your original task and wonder what you were going to do about it, while that solution sits waiting in anticipation.

While Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox president of baseball operations, continues his search to fill the void left by retired designated hitter David Ortiz, the setup role continues to be an issue. Christopher Smith of MassLive.com commented that “Dombrowski is pursuing an eighth-inning setup man this offseason. But how about the setup man he traded for last offseason? Carson Smith. Remember him?”

Smith was traded with Roenis Elias from the Seattle Mariners for Jonathan Aro and Wade Miley in December 2015. After 78.1 innings of his budding MLB career with the Mariners, Smith had 102 strikeouts to only 25 walks. Smith’s earliest arbitration year is 2018 and free agency is 2021. The trade looked very favorable to the Red Sox, under those conditions.

However, instead of paying Smith $529 thousand to help the bullpen shut out opposing lineups, the money went to him riding the pine. Smith pitched just 2.2 innings for the Red Sox before needing Tommy John surgery last May.

Feb 20, 2016; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Carson Smith (39) throws a bullpen session as he works out at Jet Blue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Smith the writer captured Dombrowski’s recent comments about Smith the reliever: “‘I’m not really ready to put that on him at this point. I think it’s more of a bonus if he’s ready there.’ Dombrowski mentioned approximately June 1 as a more realistic timetable for Smith’s return. ‘But that’s still to be determined.'”

It’s always good to be cautious when one is running a business, especially a historical franchise with a fan base such as Red Sox Nation; however, Dombrowski may not have to worry about signing a free agent reliever to big money if Smith is healthy in 2017.

Smith looked great before the injury, just like he looked when he kept batters to a .192 average in 2015. With the side delivery that Smith has, it’s no wonder that his slider is so filthy to reach such a number. According to FanGraphs.com, Smith uses it about 45 percent of the time at 85 mph. While Smith uses both a four-seamer and a two-seamed fastball, he uses them in balance with his slider. He also has a changeup; yet, Smith would only use it under seven percent of the time to change things up, no pun intended.

With numbers like that, a healthy Smith would mean a great deal to Boston’s relief problems. Only Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel had a lower opposing batting average (.152), last season. Clay Buchholz did some relief work for a .198 batting average. Koji Uehara, the former closer and setup man, posted a .200 average. Brad Ziegler, who was later brought into the fold in 2016 and has a funky delivery of his own, posted a .234 average. Now, Uehara and Ziegler are off of the current roster and Buchholz is back to fighting for a spot in the starting rotation. All that’s left in the bullpen are some middle relievers and Smith’s possibly-healed arm.

If Smith can prove that his slider is as dangerous as it was in 2015, he could prove to be a huge relief for the bullpen, the Red Sox, and their president. The problem is that Smith has to wait until 2017 to prove it. Within that amount of time, Dombrowski has to decide whether his team can wait till March or even June for Smith to show it or if he must bring in another relief pitcher. That’s money that could have been used to tempt a big bat to Boston. Instead, that temptation may seem too light in the wallet because of the doubt left in Dombrowski’s cautious mind about Smith’s surgically-repaired arm. An injured arm can seem like a tool that could collect dust when it’s forgotten.

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