The Boston Red Sox are rumored to be looking at several free agent relievers in the bargain bin. What available options fit that description?
Spring training is right around the corner but free agency is far from over with plenty of options remaining on the market. The Boston Red Sox aren’t hunting for any big names but they could make a smaller move or two.
Masslive’s Chris Cotillo reports that the Red Sox are actively engaged with multiple free-agent relievers. The focus appears to be on options in the $2-3 million range that would allow them to stay out of the steepest luxury tax penalties. That rules out Craig Kimbrel and any of the few remaining viable closer options. Boston is bargain hunting to add some depth.
While the report mentions the team has had discussions with multiple relievers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they plan to sign more than one. Boston only has one spot open on their 40-man roster. They could conceivably make room if necessary but it doesn’t seem worthwhile to outright any player with value off the roster in order to add a middle reliever.
Kimbrel is still on the radar but the Red Sox are waiting to see how far his market falls due to a surprisingly limited level of interest around the league. For the sake of argument, let’s set Kimbrel aside and explore the cheaper alternatives they could find for under $3 million per season.
Boston’s bullpen is short on left-handed relievers and a trio of southpaws are among the top remaining options on the market. Oliver Perez (1.39 ERA, 12.0 K/9) and Tony Sipp (1.86 ERA, 9.8 K/9) are both coming off careers years. Their ages and shaky track records should keep their price tag down but how much can you trust a pitcher who had the best year of their career in their mid-30’s? Zach Duke (4.15 ERA, 8.8 K/9) was terrible after he was sent to Seattle at the trade deadline but he was having a solid season prior to the deal and has pitched well the last few seasons.
Brad Brach (3.59 ERA, 8.6 K/9) failed as the fill-in closer while the Orioles waited for Zach Britton‘s return but was better than ever in a setup role following a trade to Atlanta. Brach has a long history of success in the AL East and could be of value – as long as they aren’t counting on him to close.
Tyler Clippard (3.67 ERA, 11.1 K/9) had a decent season with the Blue Jays, bouncing back from an off year in which he spent time with three teams and complied a 4.77 ERA that stands as his worst since he was a rookie. He was great the previous year with the Yankees so Clippard is another AL East proven option.
Shawn Kelley (2.94 ERA, 9.2 K/9) was one of the worst relievers in baseball in 2017 but he returned to form this year. Oakland loaded up on bullpen pieces for their Wild Card push and Kelley was a big part of that, posting a 2.16 ERA in 16 2/3 innings for the A’s.
Do any of these pitchers move the needle for the Red Sox? Not really. There’s some upside with all of them but they each come with risks due to their age and/or rocky histories. That’s why they are in the bargain bin. If the Red Sox really aren’t planning to bring back Kimbrel and are intent on limiting their tax burden, these are the best options they can afford.
In that case, Boston may be better off promoting a prospect to fill the final roster spot at the major league minimum price, then make a mid-season trade if that solution doesn’t pan out.