Boston Red Sox plan to keep Matt Barnes in the bullpen


Matt Barnes has bounced between roles in the starting rotation and the bullpen so many times over the last two seasons that we were left to wonder if the Boston Red Sox even had a plan in mind for his future with the organization. Well they do now, as it seems they are going to stick with having him be a reliever.

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski revealed on WEEI’s Hot Stove this week that Barnes will help fill the team’s need for a power arm in the bullpen.

"“With Matt Barnes, our plans are for him to come to spring training, and we’ve already talked to him about this, and really focus in on the bullpen, to try to help us with that power arm out there,” said Dombrowski."

Dombrowski has clearly taken notice of how teams like the Kansas City Royals have found success through strong bullpens that can shut down opponents late in games. The former Detroit Tigers general manager has always been high on pitchers with power arms, but piecing together a solid bullpen has been a weak spot for him in recent years. Detroit’s bullpen finished in the bottom five in the league in ERA in each of the last five seasons under his watch, so he’s well aware of how difficult it is to build a dominant bullpen.

"“Other than premium guys that are your premium closers, there’s so much inconsistency in bullpen performances throughout the years,” explained Dombrowski. “So the good arm just doesn’t settle, because you can have a good arm and still get hit. The projection of stuff, command, secondary stuff, the ability to deal with the pressures of closing. And I think sometimes you have to look at the year before, was somebody overworked, were there any injury factors? You have to look at all those things and hopefully make wise decisions that end up working for you.”"

Barnes has always had good stuff, but his secondary pitches haven’t been consistent enough to allow him to make his way through the order multiple times during his starts. That would seem to suggest that he may be a better fit for the bullpen, where his velocity would play up more, but the Red Sox have been hesitant to commit him to that role full-time.

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This year Barnes tossed 43.0 innings in Boston over 32 appearances, which included two starts. He was primarily a reliever for the 37.2 innings that he threw in Pawtucket, but when a combination of injuries and promotions for other prospects thinned the PawSox rotation, Barnes was asked to help fill the void.

The Red Sox essentially used Barnes to fill any role they had a need for at the time, which may have been what the team needed from him in the short-term, but yanking him between roles was detrimental to his long-term development. The results were an unsightly 5.44 ERA during his multiple stints in the big leagues this year, as Barnes struggled to find his comfort zone with his role constantly changing.

That won’t be an issue anymore, as the team is finally committed to keeping him in the bullpen. By allowing him to focus on working in relief, the Red Sox are hoping to catch a lottery ticket that gets them one step closer to building the dominant bullpen they crave. The Royals did it with Wade Davis and current New York Yankees closer Andrew Miller followed a similar path. Both were former prized prospects that failed to make it as the top of the rotation starter they were projected to become, but now they are two of the most dominant relievers in the game. Barnes was once one of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox system and he throws the kind of heat that could allow him to thrive by cranking it up in shorter outings.

The way that baseball is trending in recent years it is becoming more vital to lean on the bullpen. The best teams have multiple trustworthy arms that they can call on late in games, but the Red Sox don’t have that type of depth. A healthy Koji Uehara is as good as they get in the ninth inning, but someone needs to help get him the ball and it can’t always be Junichi Tazawa, who we have seen wear down from a heavy workload.

Next: Who will start behind the plate in 2016?

Dombrowski knows it’s not easy building a bullpen, but if Barnes can succeed when given the chance to take on the role full-time then the task becomes much easier. 2016 is the year we may finally find out if Barnes is up to the challenge.