Brian Fuentes Still on Red Sox Radar
With the new and improved Boston Red Sox bullpen just 6 or so weeks away from showing their stuff in Fort Myers, FL, they may have some more company. The one glaring weakness is a top tier match-up lefty for the late innings and with Brian Fuentes still on the market, the Sox are apparently taking a run at him. With bullpen options dwindling, they will not be alone, not even close. According to Jon Heyman of SI.com, the Sox are interested in the lefty-closer, but there have been at least 10 other teams also showing interest. Yikes… An 11-team race is hard to fathom, but when looking at the teams realistically, I think the group that has a legitimate shot at Fuentes is somewhere around 5 or 6. Either way, the Sox have a ton of competition to land the solid late-inning guy, but Theo knows how good this team can be in 2011 and beyond. The investment in a lefty-specialist and a guy with late-inning experience could prove to be invaluable down the line. (more after the jump)
Let’s just imagine the Red Sox bullpen with the addition of Brian Fuentes. Here would be my projected placement for the relievers as they stand now with the former Angels closer thrown into the mix:
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
Set-up: Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks
Lefty specialist: Brian Fuentes
Middle inning arms: Dan Wheeler, Tim Wakefield, Michael Bowden
Long-relief: Felix Doubront
Those are assuming the Sox carry 13 pitchers (5 starters and 8 relievers). If they choose to go the route of 12 pitchers, then Michael Bowden will likely be the odd man out, because the Sox want him to continue to grow and develop. If he isn’t going to pitch often in the bigs, then getting him consistent playing time in Pawtucket will be a better scenario. No matter how you cut it, that is an impressive lineup of relievers, including Jenks and Fuentes who have a combined 360 saves and 24 appearances in the post-season. Then throw in Bard, who had a terrific 1.93 era in 73 appearances in 2010 and the Sox go from an unimpressive overall group in 2010 to a feared end of the game rotation in 2011.
Beyond the late-inning guys, the Sox have old-reliable Wakefield and veteran righty Wheeler to fill the middle-relief gap and newly converted reliever Felix Doubront to fill a long-relief and 2nd lefty in the ‘pen slot. Doubront has the potential to be a solid reliever with middle-to-late inning talent, but after being converted from a starter last season, the less pressure-packed mop-up role/long-reliever role will allow him to work on his stuff more effectively. Also, in games against more lefty-heavy lineups like the New York Yankees, Doubront can match-up better in the 6th and 7th innings, allowing Fuentes to still be an option in the 8th and 9th inning of a close game. The Sox are most successful when they have a top lefty arm in their ‘pen for late innings (i.e. Hideki Okajima in 2007), because is allows Tito the option to better match-up with the Yankees late in the season and on into the post-season. Given recent history, another Yankees v. Red Sox ALCS wouldn’t be an outlandish prediction in 2011.
The Sox still have a ways to go in order to bring in Fuentes, but on paper, his addition would sure-up an already solid bullpen and make the Sox an even more feared team all around. It comes down to Theo’s ability to give Fuentes the years and dollars he is looking for, even with a number of teams breathing down his neck.