Lefty Depth in Bullpen a Possible Target for Red Sox

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Lefty Depth in Bullpen a Possible Target for Red Sox So long as he's at the helm of one of the best teams in the American League, Theo Epstein has no desperate need to make a big splash at next week's trading deadline.

We can likely forget about the biggest of the big names. No Roy Halladay, no Jake Peavy, no Matt Holliday in Boston. The Sox can get by this summer by simply making small moves to tweak what is already a championship contender.

"We want to create as much depth and redundancy as we possibly can," Epstein told the Globe
this weekend. "If you don't address depth before July 31 or in some
cases in August, then you're left without an opportunity to do so down
the stretch and to help the team, we hope, in another postseason."

Depth,
redundancy — these are the qualities that make great teams even
better. Set yourself up so that if one guy goes down with an injury,
there's another in the wings to replace him, someone almost as good.
That was the goal with Adam LaRoche, whom the Sox landed Wednesday — LaRoche gives the Red Sox an extra corner infielder to complement Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell.

So long as we're looking at minor improvements, the other area Epstein might want to check out is his bullpen.

The Sox' bullpen has been little cause for complaint this season — in fact, Terry Francona has at his disposal what is statistically the top relief corps
in the AL. He's blessed with seven — yes, seven — top-shelf
relievers, including the one of game's best closers. With a group like
that, a skipper can do no wrong.

But the one question that might need answering is whether Tito could use an extra southpaw.

The lefty specialist is a key ingredient in any championship-winning 'pen. The Sox won it all in 2004 with Alan Embree filling that role; Javier Lopez had taken over the reins by 2007 when the Sox won again.

But
we can't live in the past anymore. Embree is in Colorado, sitting out
the rest of 2009 on the disabled list; Lopez is down in Triple-A with
the PawSox. And the Sox would love to have the next big-moment lefty —
the guy who can step into the seventh inning of Game 7 with Hideki Matsui at the plate and get that crucial out. Who is that guy?

The only lefty on the Red Sox' active roster (besides Jon Lester, a lock for the postseason rotation) is Hideki Okajima.
Okajima has been brilliant against lefties this season, limiting them
to a .455 OPS, but one guy might not be enough for these Sox.

There
are two problems with the Red Sox sticking to Okajima as their lone
lefty specialist. One, they're without a fallback option should he ever
get hurt. Two, they're limiting their ability to use Okajima as a setup
man. In 2007, they turned to the rookie Japanese import as their
eighth-inning guy to set up Jonathan Papelbon for big
postseason saves; that formula worked well. If the Sox go deep in the
playoffs in 2009, Francona might go with that tried and true method
again.

So what if Bobby Abreu or Curtis Granderson or Carlos Pena comes to bat in the sixth or seventh inning with the game on the line? Who's your go-to lefty?

The
answer might come via a promotion from within. Lopez has put up decent
numbers with the PawSox this season, but lefties are hitting an
alarming .286 against him. Hunter Jones, who had a cup of
coffee with the big club earlier in 2009, is also an option; Jones is
holding Triple-A left-handed batters to a .184 average this season. Billy Traber,
a former Yankees castoff nearing his 30th birthday, has a 2.98 ERA in
30 games for Pawtucket this season; lefties have hit .224 against him.

All
of these guys are options. But there's a chance that Theo won't trust
any of them to get a big out in October, and if that's the case, he had
best look elsewhere soon.

Nine days till the deadline. The clock's ticking.

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