On Friday, the Red Sox and free agent right-hander Alexi Ogando agreed to a one-year major league contract worth $1.5M, adding an arm to a bullpen that already appeared full. And while Ogando’s upside is undeniable, it’s tough to see just where he’ll fit into Boston’s relief corps.
Throughout Ogando’s major league career, the Rangers have whipped him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen with no apparent plan. When the Rangers promoted Ogando in 2010, he made 44 relief appearances with no starts, then he turned around and made 29 starts the next season. Since then, he has been serving out of the bullpen in 2012 and 2014, while mysteriously making 18 starts (versus just 5 relief appearances) in 2013.
With a full rotation, however, the bullpen will likely be Ogando’s home this season. Given his experience starting, a long relief or swingman role would be an obvious fit for Ogando. During his career in relief, though, Ogando has not pitched in that role, instead sliding into a late-inning, setup role.
The short, one-inning stints of late inning roles allow Ogando’s excellent velocity and stuff to play up and he has been very successful in his career in relief. While his 3.25 ERA from the bullpen is just a shade below his 3.40 ERA when starting, his strikeout rate has risen from a pedestrian 6.5 BB/9 when starting to an impressive 8.6 K/9 in relief.
He has clearly been at his best as a late-inning reliever; however, it’s tough to see him sliding into that role either, at least to start the season. Ogando will be competing with Koji Uehara (who will likely close), Junichi Tazawa (who is coming off a season in which he posted a 2.86 ERA with excellent peripherals), and Edward Mujica (who posted a 2.82 ERA after April) for high-pressure roles in the bullpen and, coming off an injury-ridden season, it’s tough to see him immediately grabbing one of those jobs.
If Ogando is able to prove that he is healthy and has returned to form, though, he will be a tremendous asset to the bullpen no matter the role in which he pitches. To begin the season, I expect that the Red Sox will use Ogando as their long reliever, allowing him to pitch for two or three-inning stints. However, if Ogando’s stuff returns to its pre-injury levels, then he could wind up in a setup role before long.