With Big-Time Bats in Fold, Red Sox Still Need to Make Upgrading Bullpen a Top Priority

With Big-Time Bats in Fold, Red Sox Still Need to Make Upgrading Bullpen a Top Priority True to Adam Sandler's poetic description of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights really turned out to be "eight crazy nights" for Red Sox Nation. I referred to a college buddy of mine for some insight on Jewish culture, and he confirmed that as a Jewish kid growing up, the "big" gift always came on the last night of Hanukkah (Thanks, Mitch).

Ideally enough, Carl Crawford came on the last night. Of course, I wouldn't argue with you for considering Adrian Gonzalez the big gift, I guess I just need to see him signed to an extension before I can really bust out the bubbly (not that I have any doubt of that extension happening).

Like most of you, I too have a huge sense of pride as Sox fan right now. But at the risk of being called a buzzkill, am I really the only one whose excitement is subdued upon realizing the work that still has to get done?

Obviously, these two Lamborghini’s make the garage look awesome — but let’s be honest, you've also lost two Maserati’s in Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre. Keep in mind that even with all of the injuries, the 2010 Red Sox scored more runs than any other team in baseball not wearing pinstripes. Apparently, the Red Sox have gone from being a "run prevention" team to a "run creation" team. The fact of the matter is that the team has improved an offense that was already elite, while also stabilizing it for the long haul. But have they fixed what was broken last year?

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m ecstatic over these two massive moves. I just can’t help but think that the Sox haven’t addressed what was arguably their biggest problem last summer. Even more so than the injuries, the team’s pitching was the real Achilles' heel, specifically the bullpen. Despite having a pitcher with the AL's second-best ERA in Clay Buchholz to go along with Jon Lester’s ninth-best ERA, the Red Sox' team ERA of 4.20 was good for 22nd in all of baseball. Ouch.

I’m not going to say that a team just can’t win that way — they obviously can, as long as they outscore their opponents. The problem is, if your goal is to win the World Series, that task becomes that much harder trying to play that way. If you're content with just reaching the playoffs, then congratulations. But when you’re playing against the other top seven teams in baseball, those guys know how to take your bats out of the game. Just ask the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Sticking with the bullpen, of the 2010 Red Sox relievers with at least 10 innings of work, only Tim Wakefield (3.60), Jonathan Papelbon (3.90) and Daniel Bard (1.93) finished with a sub-4.00 ERA, with Bard being the only one under 2.00. As a whole, their bullpen finished 12th in the AL in ERA with a 4.24 mark, not to mention 22 blown saves.

Those numbers, along with the adversity that  the team faced all season, make it even more difficult to figure out how they managed to win a remarkable 89 games.

In regards to the pitching, though, what good is it scoring seven runs if your bullpen alone is giving up four? I understand that relievers aren’t necessarily a must-sign in December. Teams can, and usually do find good post-holiday deals for reliable arms. Although finding those arms is never an exact science, there are plenty of names out there that could fit in quite nicely in Boston.

Recently, we've heard a lot about the Sox interest in the Dodger’s young catcher Russell Martin, but if you ask me, the Dodger they should’ve paid attention to was lefty reliever George Sherrill. Red Sox lefty specialist Hideki Okajima was anything but special in 2010, with lefties hitting .284 off the southpaw. Unless you’re willing to put full faith in Felix Doubront after just 12 games (and he may deserve it), Sherrill might have been that lefty specialist the team so desperately covets after Okajima's rough season. Though Sherrill's 2010 season was somewhat of a disappointment in comparison to his two previously stellar years, he did hold left-handed hitters to a .128 BA and a .188 OBP.

Sorry, though. That boat has sailed — Sherrill signed with the Atlanta Braves.

Former All-Star closer J.J. Putz is another guy that I was sad to see swiped by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Last year, all he did was strike out 65 batters in 54 innings for the White Sox.

And while Boston did break the Angels' hearts by snagging Crawford, the Halos did steal an AL East lefty that was said to be on the Sox' radar in former Blue Jay reliever Scott Downs.

Needless to say, I think those are three guys the Red Sox could’ve signed and enjoyed the benefits of having. Maybe I’m being greedy, but who’s to say I can’t have my cake and eat it too?

There are still plenty of guys out there that we can expect general manager Theo Epstein to go out and try and get. After Carl Crawford’s press conference on Saturday, the GM acknowledged that the team will be looking to find both righty and lefty relievers whether it be via trade or free agency.

The likes of Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Kevin Gregg, Grant Balfour and Manny Corpas just to name a few are all hurlers that I would consider low risk/high reward types –- and you gotta love those.

Obviously I imagine that if I’m thinking this way Theo and his boys are well ahead of me; it’ll be fun to see who shows up in Ft. Myers on Feb. 13 when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

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