The Boston Red Sox bullpen has been rebuilt but a potential battle looms for one last position.
The Boston Red Sox (Americans) inaugural season pitching staff had exactly eleven pitchers who saw service during the season, but in classic Paul Harvey statement, there is “The rest of the story.” The bulk of the pitching was handled by three pitchers – Cy Young, George Winter and Ted Lewis who accounted for 65 of the 79 wins. Bullpens and relief pitching were an afterthought in that era where you finished what you started – the threesome started 110 games that were part of a 136 game schedule.
The Red Sox rotation is shaping up and there may be a battle for the last rung of the five-man starting group. The bullpen also has some firm pitchers in place – Craig Kimbrel, Junichi Tazawa, Carson Smith, Koji Uehara and Robbie Ross are set, signed and ready for your amusement in 2016. But what about the rest?
The bullpen usually comprises seven pitchers and sometimes eight in this pitch count and situational era of baseball. So that leaves a few on the potential outside looking in. The good news is they are on the 40-man roster and thusly get a nice MLB style paycheck be it in Boston or Pawtucket. Of course, the pension does take a hit. So who may be looking through that glass window in early April while the rest of their bullpen compadres are enjoying the luxury of a post-game buffet?
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Steven Wright has a big plus in his ledger in that he can fulfill any role that a manager, pitching coach and interfering GM can dream up. Wright has surfaced in Boston periodical since 2013 when he went 2-0 in four games and one start. Last season Wright was a dependable knuckleball pitcher who made nine starts in 16 games finishing at 5-4 with a respectable 4.09 ERA.
Wright also is now 30-years-old and that is baseball middle age unless, like Wright, you are a K-ball pitcher where the baseball life expectancy can go into your 40s. Wright has success out of the bullpen and does represent a change of pace with his dancing knuckleball that hovers around 75 MPH. Follow that up with Kimbrel and his smoke will seem like a Ferrari on the Autobahn.
Wright is out of options so that comes into play. He could end up as a DFA and would be gobbled up by another club or traded. A Wright solid spring would put him in the mix and that is where Tommy Layne could be holding the short straw.
Layne does have an existing option so the Red Sox could also send Layne out for a month or so. Layne also has an asset that Wright does not. The genetic lottery awarded Layne the ability to throw left-handed and that certainly is a something special when your career slash against lefties in .159/.259/.196. But, unfortunately, Mr. Layne must face the occasional right-handed hitter and that is where things simply blow up as in .306/.406/.472. And in 2015, it was even worse.
Layne will not dazzle you with speed but will with stealth. Layne’s fastball will occasionally reach 90 MPH and he will mix in an assortment of curves, a slider and a change. At 31-years-old Layne is firmly entrenched in the category labeled situational lefty.
Stacking up the numbers with Wright one sees that Wright manages a career evenness between right-hand hitters (.241) and left-hand hitters (.245). What Wright also does is that one neat trick that knuckleball pitchers can do – create a home run derby within the game. For Wright, it was a H/9 of 1.2 compared to Layne’s 0.4. And then the wild pitches.
A last possibility is Edwin Escobar, who missed most of 2015 with some injuries. Escobar, a left-hander, who was acquired via trade from the Giants. That 2015 at Pawtucket would certainly not instill any confidence in Escobar nailing down a slot in the bullpen. The final record was 3-3 with a 5.07 ERA is 16 games of which six were starts.
Escobar has a nice three-pitch mix with a fastball that will touch on 95 MPH. The PawSox record is also tainted by some rather dismal early showings by Escobar that may have been rust related from a long layoff. When slipped into the rotation in August Escobar did reasonably well and was showing some of the latent ability the Sox assumed he had from his top ten prospect days in Frisco.
Escobar would have to light it up in spring training. The arm is there and so is the potential. Otherwise, the Red Sox will expose him to 29 other team of which several would be more than willing to make a trade.
The odds are that going into spring training the battle for the bullpen last slot may be handicapped as (1) Layne (2) Wright and (3) Escobar. The Red Sox could also carry eight pitchers in the bullpen and, of course, trades and the Red Sox version of the “Hellenic Flu” is also possible.