Red Sox could find bullpen help in buyer’s market for relievers

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 15: Kelvin Herrera #40 of the Kansas City Royals pitches in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium on May 15, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 15: Kelvin Herrera #40 of the Kansas City Royals pitches in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium on May 15, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Recent trades involving proven closers have shown it’s a buyer’s market for relievers, which benefits a Boston Red Sox team in need of bullpen help.

On the surface, the trade that sent Kelvin Herrera to the Washington Nationals appeared to be bad news for the Boston Red Sox. At least in terms of a potential target being taken off the board for a team in need of bullpen help.

However, there is a silver lining. While the Red Sox won’t be able to trade for Herrera, the relatively low cost the Nationals paid to acquire him from the Kansas City Royals suggests it’s a buyer’s market for relief pitching.

Herrera is a two-time All-Star who has been among the league’s top closers this year. He’s converted 14 of 16 save opportunities while posting a 1.05 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 11.00 K/BB ratio. He’ll presumably step into a setup role behind Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, forming a fearsome one-two punch at the back of their bullpen.

Despite accolades that made him arguably the most coveted reliever on the trade market, the Nats weren’t forced to fork over a massive haul. The Royals received three prospects, only one of whom was ranked among Washington’s top-10 (Blake Perkins, No. 8).

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That’s significantly less than what stud relievers such as Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller have brought back in deadline deals in recent years. Herrera doesn’t quite have the name recognition of Chapman or his blazing 100+ mph fastball. He’s also a free agent after this season, unlike Miller who had multiple years of control remaining when last traded. Still, even for a rental, the price the Nats paid wasn’t steep for a pitcher of Herrera’s caliber.

This follows the trend set when the Seattle Mariners acquired Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays. The M’s also got Denard Span in the deal, while the Rays took back a pair of middling pitching prospects. The move seemed more about slashing payroll rather than acquiring high-ceiling talent.

These in-season deals for established closers show the market has shifted. If an All-Star closer can be acquired without selling the farm, surely the Red Sox can find a viable setup man. The Herrera deal takes one potential piece of the board but there are other attainable options.

The San Diego Padres should be sellers at the deadline. The prize from their bullpen is Brad Hand, although the asking price will surely be higher given he’s locked up for multiple years on a bargain contract. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the Padres would likely ask for a young everyday player, such as Rafael Devers.

That’s not happening. Not in any market, let alone in the wake of these recent trades for closers. However, the Padres do have other enticing relievers who could presumably be acquired for a more reasonable cost.

The Red Sox should keep an eye on Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton, who recently returned from the disabled list. If he proves to be healthy and back to form then the O’s will almost certainly look to trade the impending free agent.

Joakim Soria could be made available if the Chicago White Sox don’t intend to pick up his $10 million option next year. The Red Sox traded for Addison Reed at the deadline last year. Perhaps they can do so again if the Minnesota Twins fall further out of the race.

The trade market will further develop as we draw closer to next month’s deadline. Options will be available. While the Red Sox may not splurge for the top available choices, they don’t necessarily need to. They already have their closer. They simply need to beef up their setup options to handle the seventh and eighth inning.

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Based on what we’ve seen on the market this season, the cost for doing so should be less than expected. Even a Red Sox organization with a depleted farm system should be able to find a useful option in their price range.