The trade deadline came and went, but no relief pitcher names came up in connection with the Red Sox. Did Dave Dombrowki make a serious error?
The Red Sox didn’t add any bullpen help. Not directly, anyway. While it was expected that by the 4:00 PM the Sox would have added some kind of late inning arm to the mix, here we are, on the other side, and nothing. The Red Sox were connected to a number of pitchers who did get moved, most of whom ended up with other contenders.
Whether it was the Yankees adding Zach Britton to an already loaded bullpen, or the Cubs adding Brandon Kintzler, good late inning arms were flying over the last two days. The Cleveland Indians added Brad Hand last week. The Braves added Darren O’Day today, and the A’s traded for Jeurys Familia before the craziness of the last day or so. The Astros even added Ryan Pressly and beleaguered Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna. The latter situation is extremely complicated due to the fact that his domestic violence case is still pending. (Though I am grateful that I don’t have to root for the team that traded for him.) It seems like every team the Red Sox might meet in the playoffs did something to improve their bullpens.
What did the Red Sox do to address the pen?
The closest they came to trading for relief help was to acquire Nathan Eovaldi from the Tampa Rays. Eovaldi has been added to the rotation for now, but could slide into a late inning role for the playoffs if the team has Eduardo Rodriguez back healthy and effective by then. Eovaldi is the hardest throwing starting pitcher on the Red Sox by average velocity, and is second in the majors to Luis Severino. He has a 97.59 MPH average on his fastball so far this season. That would be quite useful out of the pen, especially if it plays up when he’s not stretching that velocity across five or six innings.
The Red Sox also have some internal options. If Eduardo Rodriguez is healthy and occupying the fourth starter slot in October, Drew Pomeranz could slide into a relief role. Of course, that assumes that he, too, is healthy. His fastball velocity started the year as low as it’s ever been and has only gotten worse. He finishes July with an average of just 88.46 MPH. If that’s not injury related, it should improve. If it is, counting on him for meaningful innings is likely a mistake.
The Red Sox could look to the minor leagues for some help, however. Travis Lakins and Matthew Gorst have both been promoted to the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. Both are enjoying great success out of the pen with Lakins sporting a 0.86 ERA in 20 relief appearances since June 1. And while still a long shot, Durbin Feltman has yet to find a minor league hitter worth his time. Brandon Workman, who was recently demoted, then recalled when Chris Sale hit the DL, has been very solid in 18.2 IP with the Red Sox this year as well.
Why will they regret not acting?
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The Red Sox bullpen currently has 4.8 fWAR, tied with the Astros for the fourth most. They rank 6th for ERA, 4th for FIP, 5th for xFIP, and are tied for 9th in K/BB. By all measures, the results have been good. So why the stress? Joe Kelly has an 8.83 ERA since June 1st. Matt Barnes, for all his success, is still walking 12.6% of the batters he’s faced. A walk at the wrong time in October can be deadly. Heath Hembree has been very good recently, but has never been able to find the consistency that would make him a late inning weapon.
Tyler Thornburg has looked spectacular since making a mechanical change, retiring ten straight since making the adjustment Sunday morning. But the sample is too small to be predictive and recovery from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is very difficult. Ryan Brasier has a 0.90 ERA, but it’s over just 10 IP. And he’s never been this good before, not even in the minors. Maybe he’s figured something out, but chances are he’ll regress. In short, outside of Craig Kimbrel, every arm they have is a significant question. Matt Barnes is the closest thing they have to a dominant setup man. And while he would be the best non-closer reliever on a number of major league teams, it’s hard to make the case for that being true of any of the contenders.
Why not pull out all the stops?
For a team with championship aspirations, that has gone past the third and final luxury tax threshold for penalties anyway, it seems almost absurd that they wouldn’t go the extra mile and acquire one of the high impact arms available this deadline. There were more available than teams looking for them. Kirby Yates, in particular, seems like a missed opportunity. He will remain with the Padres for now. Perhaps he will be part of a waiver wire deal in August, or he may be moved over the winter. But the opportunity for the Red Sox to add him, without any restrictions, for this stretch run appears to have passed them by.
If the bullpen proves to be a fatal flaw for this team, after the remarkable regular season run they have had, including a massive resurgence by the offense, Dave Dombrowski should probably start checking his seat for signs of warmth. Coming this close to a team without any real weaknesses and choosing not to address the most obvious need the roster has is a baffling decision. Let’s hope it’s not one that comes back to haunt them.
Did you expect the Red Sox to add a reliever by the deadline? Of the names not moved, which was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!