With pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training in about a month, one has to think the wealth of relievers still available will begin to get plucked out of free agency.
And with the Red Sox yet to sign a relief pitcher, which remaining free agents make sense for Boston if it elects to try to add some bullpen depth? Two of the Red Sox’s rumored targets, Zach Britton and David Robertson, have signed elsewhere. But while most of the big names are off the board, there still are some serviceable options remaining.
Providing the Red Sox don’t bring back Craig Kimbrel, here are a few guys that might make sense:
Adam Ottavino (2018 with Rockies: 6-4, 2.43 ERA)
Maybe the best remaining reliever out there, there’s no shortage of upside for Ottavino, who anchored an otherwise meh Colorado bullpen last season.
Of the available pitchers, Ottavino has one of the best strikeout rates, punching out 112 batters in 77 2/3 innings over 75 games in 2018. The 33-year-old also did a decent job keeping the ball in the park, allowing just five dingers, and according to FanGraphs, he allowed the lowest percentage of hard contact (25.3) of any reliever last year.
While Ottavino’s posted a few saves throughout his career, he figures to be more of a setup arm.
And for what it’s worth, Ottavino is a Northeastern University product — not that it really means anything.
Brad Brach (2018 with Orioles/Braves: 2-4, 3.59 ERA)
The Red Sox are familiar with Brach, as he spent four-plus seasons with Baltimore before being shipped to the Atlanta Braves in the middle of last season.
Before getting traded, Brach was in the midst of his worst season in an Orioles uniform, but his nice turnaround in Atlanta should inspire some confidence. The 32-year-old posted a 1.52 ERA in 27 regular-season appearances with the Braves, allowing just one homer in that stretch.
Save for the 42 appearances with Baltimore in 2018 when he has a 4.85 ERA, Brach never had an ERA over 3.18 during his time with the O’s — a sign that the 2016 All Star can pitch in the American League East with some success.
Cody Allen (2018 with Indians: 4-6, 4.70 ERA)
Let’s get out in front of this: Allen is the reason the Indians finagled a deal for Brad Hand, and he deserves to shoulder some of the blame for the tire fire that was Cleveland’s bullpen in 2018. That said, Allen otherwise has a pretty good track record.
Last season, he went 4-6 with a 4.70 ERA. But in the five seasons prior he was 20-22 with a 2.59 ERA and 122 saves. From his rookie year in 2013 through 2017, he never had an ERA go over 2.99.
At 30-years-old, he’s yet to have any major health issues (he’s pitched at least 67 games every year since becoming a full-time major leaguer) and mostly has been consistent. Given the Red Sox don’t have a true closer, merely candidates like Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier entering camp, having an arm that has plenty of experience in the ninth is enticing.
If Boston is willing to cross its fingers and hope 2018 was an anomaly, Allen presents a fascinating option.
Tony Sipp (2018 with Astros: 3-1, 1.86 ERA)
Opposite of Allen, Sipp made a pretty good case for himself in a contract year. In 54 appearances with Houston last year he was 3-1 with a 1.86 ERA, striking out 42 while allowing just one home run.
Sipp often featured in the seventh inning, but also got plenty of action in the sixth and eighth. He entered 21 games with runners on base, and just twice allowed inherited runners to score. He surrendered runs in seven of his total appearances, and just once was it a multi-run outing (he gave up a pair against the Seattle Mariners on April 19).
Now, there’s some risk in bringing in the 35-year-old, as 2018 far and away was the best season of his 10-year career. Although he was sharp in 2015, his second season with Houston, 2016 and 2017 were outright forgettable years, and he was left off the roster all postseason when the Astros won the World Series in 2017.
There’s reason to like the idea of Sipp, but there’s an equal amount of reason to be skeptical.
Greg Holland (2018 with Cardinals/Nationals: 2-2, 4.66 ERA)
It wasn’t long ago Holland was one of the most highly sought-after relievers in free agency, but after a solid 2017 with the Rockies, 2018 (well, part of it) proved to be a mess.
He posted an abysmal 7.92 ERA in 32 outings with the St. Louis Cardinals before getting run out of town on a rail and sent to Washington. While the Nationals didn’t have much to play for by the time he arrived, the change of scenery proved beneficial, as he finished the year with a 0.84 ERA in 24 appearances with the Nats.
Because of that, you could argue that you don’t exactly know what you’re getting with the 33-year-old Holland. But given he’s a three-time All-Star and shared the National League lead in saves as recently as 2017, there’s reason to believe those few months in 2018 were a fluke.
If the Red Sox are willing to believe that, they could stumble into a pretty solid late-inning arm with heaps of closer experience.