Rebuilding the Red Sox bullpen for the 2020 season

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 14: Brandon Workman #44 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Cleveland Indians the ninth inning at Progressive Field on August 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Red Sox defeated the Indians 5-1. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 14: Brandon Workman #44 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Cleveland Indians the ninth inning at Progressive Field on August 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Red Sox defeated the Indians 5-1. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox bullpen has been part of the pitching problem but just how big? This is a good, but not great bullpen. A look at 2020.

How do you rebuild a bullpen? The first order of the day is to quantify the term rebuild. Is this stripping down as you would do with woodwork before repainting or staining?  All too often the bullpen gave the appearance of a game show just giving away prizes only it was giving away runs. Just possible that the reaction to the bullpen was ill-advised?

The most notable component of a bullpen is the closer and the Red Sox cut ties with one of the historical best when Craig Kimbrel went elsewhere. With hindsight that was possibly one of the best strategic moves of the Dombrowski administration, but the search for a replacement was tedious. Many came and many failed.

With a mere few games remaining in the season the Red Sox bullpen has notched 26 blown saves – third-most in the American League and just a notch ahead of the Yankees. But the second half is a different story with just nine blown saves and a ranking of fourth (2.8 fWAR). The good news is regarding the long search for a closer and that is Brandon Workman has assumed that role.

Workman is now best classified as an experienced veteran and has settled into the role of closer with 16 saves. The downside is the 31-year-old righty walks too many (5.7 BB/9) and if you have a bat he compensates by striking out too many (13.1 K/9). In saves situations that BB/9 accelerates so, it may be either jitters, fear factor, or concentration, but for my money, Workman is your closer for 2020 with limited patience attached.

Just who has risen up the charts and that means youth must be served. Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernandez have either surprised or shocked depending on hyperbole. Both have rough edges – especially Hernandez. Both have the “stuff” on a physical and mental level to do the job. Can both step in as the closer in case Workman goes south? That is a situation that a reasonable Red Sox fan – there are a few left – hope does not exist.

Three other arms on the staff represent a unique blend of baseball with the first being Marcus Walden who played in the minors when George Bush was president and finally arrived in “The Show” during the Donald Trump presidency. Walden failed miserably as a closer (4 BS) but has been Workmanlike in other roles managing to at least not have a daily meltdown.

The second member of note is the man with the electric fastball (96.6) and knee-buckling curve Matt Barnes. Barnes is certainly in the enigma or the box of chocolates class with every appearance. Barnes is also a pitching product – like Workman – of the draft and farm system. A certain endangered species in baseball ops.

Lastly is Ryan Brasier who like Walden spent a significant portion of his professional baseball life accumulating air miles that even included a stint in Japan. In 2018 Brasier was “The Man” and in 2019 Brasier was toast even with a stint in the minors. The walks were up (3.2 BB/9) and home runs (1.5 HR/9) were leaving at an alarming rate. In September Brasier has simply folded like a cheap suitcase with 10 runs in nine innings.

The sample size is small, but trade dud Andrew Cashner has possibly found a niche in the bullpen and even had a save. This is the Cashner the Red Sox expected only the expectation was as a starter. Cashner’s performance deserves a 2020 curtain call, but the money is the issue.

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Righty Heath Hembree had his shot – didn’t everyone – to close. Hembree has established himself as a vanilla pitcher – nothing to click your heels about, but far from a pending disaster. I would fully expect a return in 2020 by Hembree with a key ingredient being arbitration – Hembree will still be relatively cheap.

Cheap is going to be the optimum word for the bullpen. Workman should get a bounce in arbitration from his $1.1 Million. Walden, Hernandez, Taylor, Brasier, et al are the low-end of service time. Certainly, other possibilities exist with a general low-end price tag – Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Colten Brewer, Trevor Kelly, Steven Wright, Travis Lakins and a few others who are toss it against the wall and see what sticks type.

The Red Sox could certainly venture into the trade and free-agent market as it is a virtual smorgasbord of talent running from pitching train wrecks to even the possible élite. As with bullpen arms, it seems all too often a star becomes a dud quickly.

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The Red Sox bullpen is good but not great. The bullpen search for stability and role position is and has been ongoing. This will be further refined in spring training and the core bullpen should be many of the familiar faces. A ‘pen that is good enough unless a similar second act by the rotation takes place in 2020.