Boston Red Sox: Roenis Elias provides depth
The Boston Red Sox acquired Roenis Elias almost as a throw-in with Carson Smith for Wade Miley, but could he have a more important role than we originally assumed?
Hands up if you had heard of Roenis Elias prior to the Boston Red Sox acquiring him earlier in the month, alongside elite reliever Carson Smith, in exchange for Wade Miley? I’m still typing, so that should tell you where I stand. Perhaps this article is the first time you’ve even heard of him, given Smith is widely, and for good reason, considered the main prize of the trade. If the deal had been a straight swap, Miley for Smith, we’d all be on the phones to our friends in Seattle, adding further to their weather-fueled depression, by making nyahh-nyahh noises. But that was just the beginning.
Elias is far from the weak link here. The lesser known one, certainly. But perhaps Elias plays a bigger role in Boston’s plans going forward than even Smith. Smith is elite for sure, a strikeout machine (see: insane K/9 of 11.83 in 2015) and has one of the most wipeout sliders I’ve ever seen, but he’s only a reliever. In the end, Smith will make an impact with the Red Sox, but perhaps not as much as had Craig Kimbrel not already been brought on board as closer. As for Elias, his value is flexibility and, perhaps, greater room to grow.
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Elias is still only 27, a touch off those formative years when most pitchers are assumed to reach their ceiling. 27 is, however, somewhat older for a pitcher with only two full seasons experience in the show, but for Elias this is more personal circumstances rather than ability. See, Elias is from Cuba and had to do all the usual hijinx even to get here to compete. Including, but not limited to, fleeing the country illegally via boat to Mexico, one of the most dangerous, yet unspoken of, facts of life in baseball today.
What Elias brought with him was a pitching acumen that saw him rise up through the minors in the Seattle system in three years, alongside a fearless and cool demeanour, doubtless chiselled from the many challenges he faced before he even made it to the park. And when he finally broke through in 2014? He brought stability to a Mariner’s rotation desperately in need of consistency (even consistently average) and ended with an ERA of 3.85, FIP of 4.03 and K/9 of 7.86 in 163 innings on the year to show for it. If Elias could come close to replicating the success he had then, or even the slightly less emphatic 2015 (4.14 ERA, 4.52 FIP), then he could well stake a claim for the last place in the Red Sox rotation in 2016.
Still, that’s not all Elias has to offer. Many have assumed, given his stuff, he could play well out of the bullpen. His 92 MPH fastball could go up a tick or two and be truly deadly and his slider/curve features amazing tumbling action. With just these two pitches, he could shelve his questionable changeup and could be converted into a potent LOOGY, left-handed specialist, that would be a much needed addition in a Boston bullpen with perhaps one too many righties. His K/9 in 2015 of 7.57 may not jump off the page, but against lefties that was up to some 12.08, good for a 31% strikeout rate.
That said, however, I feel Elias has more to offer than just being Cuban Tommy Layne. And I feel that perhaps Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski agrees. Dombrowski, likely, would have his hands firmly on the table if asked the opening question, had it not been for July 1 2014. Back then, Roenis “at least it’s not Felix Hernandez” Elias led the Mariners in a Complete Game Shutout of the Detroit Tigers, a team more than capable of hitting with Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez at the top of the order. Instead, they swat at flies as Elias went the distance giving up only 3 hits, walking 1 and sending away 8 by way of the K. Had this been you or I pitching you could safely put it down to fluke, but Elias flashed too much talent for such a consideration.
This being the case, it’s obvious to me, and perhaps Dombrowski too, that Elias either belongs as a starter, a depth starter or perhaps even more usefully as a long reliever. Think Steven Wright, only with a more consistent pitching arsenal. Rick Porcello’s given up three dingers in the first inning alone? Bring him off, Elias can keep the Red Sox afloat and the bullpen rested. Eduardo Rodriguez pitching too many innings and needs a rest? Elias is ready to make a spot start. Injuries plaguing the rotation (looking at you Clay Buchholz) again? It’s not the end of Boston’s chances for contention.
I feel this role suits Elias perfectly, at least for now. I say for now because, as we’ve talked about before, it’s clear that Dombrowski has big plans for newly acquired ace David Price even beyond his starts. Price is well known for having a positive influence on the other pitchers on his team, leading with example, critiquing their bullpens, helping them take the next step. Elias is just such an impressionable individual that he could benefit the most from Price. While with the Mariners, Elias learned from watching Hisashi Iwakuma’s bullpens and employed his delivery techniques. Under Price’s influence, it’s not unlikely that some of that untapped potential in Elias could come to the fore and see him cemented in Boston’s lineup more permanently.
Alternatively, Dombrowski could elect to trade him and such a move would also be prudent. Given the ridiculous asking prices for starting pitchers today, a consistent pitcher like Elias could be desirable. He’s not really all that different from Miley, all things being considered.
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Either which way, the Fenway faithful should look forward to seeing what Elias can do for the Red Sox, either on the mound or on the trading block. His potential is exciting and he will likely find many friendly faces, least of all fellow Cuban Rusney Castillo, to make it a soft landing. We should expect to see and hear more of him in 2016, when, hopefully we’ll all have our hands in the air for other reasons besides.