Chaim Bloom wasted no time getting to work in his new role as the head of the Boston Red Sox’s baseball operations, but he and everyone else know the much tougher work is just down the road.
The Sox bolstered their bullpen Thursday by claiming left-handed reliever Josh Osich off waivers, the first move in what could be an offseason of significant change for the ballclub.
One year ago, the Red Sox were celebrating a World Series title and all seemed right with the world. This year, after a disappointing 84-78 season, Bloom must address some key issues to ensure the club is back to contending in 2020.
But what exactly is Boston’s most pressing offseason need? If you ask MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, it’s finding a closer.
“The rotation needs to be addressed as well, but after letting Craig Kimbrel walk last year and struggling to find an answer in the ninth inning, Boston could try to address that spot this offseason unless newly-appointed chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom truly believes in Brandon Workman,” Feinsand wrote for MLB.com on Thursday.
No doubt, the Red Sox must improve the bullpen. It largely was an issue during the club’s title run in 2018 before they got things figured out down the stretch and into the playoffs where they were able to use starters in relief. And if we’re going to use Bloom’s time with the Tampa Bay Rays to help predict his team-building habits, you have to believe the bullpen will be a major focus. The Red Sox appear destined for an even more data-driven operation, and you have to wonder whether Alex Cora will become even less likely to let his starting pitchers stay in games to face a lineup the third time through.
So, Feinsand might actually be right when he points to the bullpen as an area of need, but is he looking at it the wrong way? The Red Sox have made it no secret they’d prefer to get back under the luxury tax; signing a free-agent closer like Will Smith or Aroldis Chapman (as Feinsand suggests) won’t come cheap. If the Red Sox are trying to be smarter about how they spend their money, it probably doesn’t make sense for them to allocate that much money to someone who’s going to pitch one inning — the last inning — primarily in only situations the team is winning.
This is going to sound intentionally simple-minded, but the Red Sox’s biggest offseason need is just finding more pitching innings. Put an even simpler way is they need to find better, more dependable pitchers.
Now, all together: “Duh.”
But the Red Sox shouldn’t be looking to spend whatever money they do have on a closer. Instead, they should be doing what Tampa Bay has done for so long, which is finding unheralded arms and acquiring those players in the cheapest way (money or trade pieces) possible. Rays relievers had baseball’s third-best WHIP and second-best FIP last season, without much in the way of big-name pitchers.
Here are Tampa Bay’s five most-used relievers (by games) from a year ago and how they were acquired:
Chaz Roe (acquired for cash considerations from Atlanta)
Emilio Pagan (acquired in three-team trade from Oakland)
Diego Castillo (amateur free-agent signing in 2014)
Colin Poche (player to be named later in a three-team trade from Arizona)
Oliver Drake (acquired for cash considerations from Toronto)
So that’s just under 300 innings of work and 4.4 wins above replacement (Fangraphs) for a grand total of … just over $3.5 million. That might as well be baseball sorcery. If Bloom — with the help of new pitching coach Dave Bush — can make a few moves like that, the Red Sox will be in a much better way with their pitching.
There’s also the starting pitching route. Here are the big-league starters the Sox currently have on the 40-man roster.
The only pitcher on that list you can feel really good about entering 2020 is Rodriguez. Sale and Price are both working their way back from injuries. Eovaldi looked good at times late in 2019, but he logged just 67 2/3 innings in the first season of his four-year, $68 million contract. Johnson is probably a Four-A pitcher.
Starting pitching was Boston’s biggest problem in their failed title defense. Largely because of injuries, 15 different pitchers made starts last season, and those who did, typically struggled. Just 55 percent of Boston’s innings last season came from starters. Only seven teams had a smaller percentage than that. Three of those seven teams did reach the playoffs but all had much better bullpens than the Red Sox.
Among those three playoff teams was Tampa Bay, so Bloom knows it can work. But as we already mentioned, it comes down to finding better, more effective pitchers who can carry a bigger workload — and that is the Sox’s biggest need of the offseason.
Oh, well, that and figuring out what to do with J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts.
Thumbnail photo via Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Sports Images