The Boston Red Sox have agreed to a minor league deal with right-handed reliever Zach Putnam, adding another potential bullpen option to the mix.
Sometimes a relatively minor move has the potential to pay off in a major way. That’s what the Boston Red Sox are hoping for with their latest free agent signing.
Masslive.com’s Chris Cotillo reports that the Red Sox have signed right-handed reliever Zach Putnam to a minor league deal. The deal is expected to include an invitation to big league camp this spring, where Putnam will have the opportunity to compete for a spot in Boston’s bullpen.
The former White Sox reliever was once a dependable arm who went 9-6 with a 2.71 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9 in parts of four seasons in Chicago.
Arm injuries have dampened the outlook on Putnam’s career in recent years. He was limited to 27 1/3 innings in 2016 before surgery to remove a bone fragment in his elbow ended his season prematurely. He returned the following season but lasted only 8 2/3 innings before he was shut down again, ultimately requiring Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2018 season.
Putnam’s best season was in 2014 when he posted a 1.98 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. Oddly enough, that performance coincided with a career-low 7.6 K/9 from a pitcher who has struck out over a batter per inning in his career. His strikeout rate jumped to a career-high 11.8 K/9 the following year but his ERA also inflated to 4.07 and his walk rate reached a troubling 4.4 BB/9.
Combining the best of those seasons – a low ERA and walk rate with a high strikeout rate – would make Putnam a valuable reliever. He’s proven capable of it, he just needs to put it all together in the same season. We saw flashes of that in his last two seasons but the 36 inning sample size is too small to trust.
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With Craig Kimbrel potentially bolting in free agency, our focus has been primarily on finding his replacement in a market littered with relievers carrying the “proven closer” tag. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have quietly been scooping up low-risk, high-reward pitchers on minor league deals. Putnam joins Erasmo Ramirez, who could serve as rotation depth or an option out of the bullpen, as pitchers the Red Sox have signed to minor league deals this week.
Boston still needs to find a closer but these under the radar signings show the team is more focused on stockpiling options to fill out their bullpen depth. A strong showing in spring training could uncover a diamond in the rough to replace the middle relief void created by the departure of Joe Kelly.
Banking on Putnam to be the solution to their bullpen problems would be risky with the right-hander coming off a lost season. They aren’t counting on him to be a savior though. A minor league deal carries little risk. The Red Sox don’t even need to add him to the 40-man roster if he struggles in spring training. However, if he does make a successful return from injury to recapture his previous form, Putnam could be just what this team needs.