Bryan Shaw, three years, $21 million
The Red Sox bullpen is led by the league’s top closer, yet questions remain about the bridge to get the ball to Craig Kimbrel.
Tyler Thornburg was acquired to serve as the 8th inning setup man, only to miss the entire season after undergoing surgery. He should be back next season but will he be the same pitcher right away? Carson Smith pitched well following his return but didn’t debut until September after missing over a year. Can he hold up for a full season? Joe Kelly‘s fastball can hit triple-digits, but is he the lights-out reliever we saw in the first half or the inconsistent one we saw following his return from his own stint on the disabled list?
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Addison Reed was acquired mid-season to fill the setup role. He’s now a free agent and may not return after a somewhat underwhelming performance in Boston. If he isn’t re-signed then the Red Sox may need to add another reliable late-inning arm.
That’s where Shaw could come in. The right-hander is as reliable as they come, leading the majors in pitching appearances in each of the last two seasons. Nobody has pitched in more games since 2013 than Shaw, who has never been on the DL.
Shaw’s 3.52 ERA in 2017 was the worst of his career, which is saying something considering it’s still pretty good. He won’t blow you away with the elite strikeout rate that Dombrowski typically desires, but his career 8.0 K/9 is above average. His career 3.0 BB/9 is a bit concerning but he lowered it in 2016 to his best rate since his rookie season.
The price tag is a bit steep for a middle reliever who may not be among the top three options in Boston’s bullpen. However, given the uncertainty among their current collection of setup options, Shaw’s durability and dependability would have value.
Shaw lands at No. 25 overall on this free agency list, sixth highest among relief pitchers. It puts him behind Reed (No. 16), who will be more expensive and likely will seek a new home where he can compete for the closer role. That would seem to make Shaw a better fit to replace Reed in Boston’s bullpen.