The Boston Red Sox continue to project confidence when it comes to their bullpen for the upcoming season, but…
The fact remains the Red Sox still have relief innings to fill before the 2019 season begins. Postseason hero Joe Kelly is a Los Angeles Dodger and free agent closer Craig Kimbrel is no sure thing to return, meaning the Red Sox might find themselves in a spot where they somehow need to make up for nearly 130 innings.
They’re also slowly but surely running out of options. A formerly robust reliever market featuring the likes of Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, David Robertson and Andrew Miller quickly is dwindling, after Ottavino signed with the Yankees and former Cleveland Indians closer Cody Allen reportedly agreed to a deal with the Los Angeles Angels in recent days.
If the season started today, the Red Sox would be looking at a situation where perhaps Ryan Brasier is the setup man for Matt Barnes in the back of the bullpen.
So, here’s where the bullpen stands right now:
Boston also has Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith in the mix. If fully healthy, they both represent tremendous bullpen options, but good luck finding a bigger “if” at this point.
Saves are an imperfect stat, but among all those relievers, they have 29 combined saves — and 27 are from Thornburg and Smith.
Could they do worse? Sure. Could they also do better? Yes.
Kimbrel remains the most intriguing piece to this entire puzzle. It sure seems like a return should be on the table, but president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has repeatedly insisted the club won’t overpay for a closer.
That ultimately might be a negotiating tactic, but one really gets the feeling that if he receives big money somewhere else (maybe Philly?), then he’s gone. And if that’s the case, the Red Sox really will have to scramble.
It’s not that there aren’t options still out there. Again, it was a loaded reliever class, and maybe Boston’s strategy the entire time was to let the aforementioned top tier of closers and late-inning relievers get paid and then pick at the scraps.
The secondary group includes veteran pitchers like Brad Brach, Ryan Madson, Tony Sipp and Adam Warren. Brach is an interesting possibility. The 32-year-old is a familiar face for the Red Sox after his time in Baltimore, and he looked pretty good for the Braves after being dealt to Atlanta last summer.
While the bullpen easily was the biggest liability on a 108-win World Series-winning team last year, it’s still a little too early to panic. The free agent market still is playing itself out, and it’s possible the Sox go outside the box and make a trade for a proven reliever. Their biggest asset actually might be their starting rotation, which could take stress off the bullpen if it lives up to expectations.
The Red Sox clearly still have work to do this offseason. Entering the 2019 season with the bullpen as constructed certainly would leave something to be desired.