Right-handed reliever Will Harris would provide an upgrade for the Boston Red Sox bullpen but he’s already received multiple offers.
The Boston Red Sox could use a proven veteran to upgrade their bullpen and Will Harris is arguably the best of the remaining free-agent relievers. Even with their payroll limitations, the right-hander is an option that should be on their radar.
According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, Harris is among the next free agents expected to come off the board and he’s received multiple offers in the $6-7 million per year range.
While the Red Sox aren’t mentioned as a team that has submitted an offer, the reasonable price tag should pique their interest. MLB Trade Rumors projected Harris to receive a 2-year, $18 million deal this winter. Boston’s brass may not be eager to spend much money but a perceived discount on one of the top available relief pitchers would be hard to ignore.
The Red Sox showed that their desire to dip under the luxury tax won’t prevent them from signing low-cost free agents that fill a need. They spent $6 million on Martin Perez to fill the fifth starter spot in their rotation so it’s not a stretch to believe they would spend the same on an elite setup arm.
Harris had a stellar season with the Houston Astros last year, posting a 1.50 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9. He’s been one of the best middle relievers in baseball over the last five years, owning a 2.36 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 9.5 K/9 during his time in Houston.
Harris works primarily with a cutter-curve mix. Both pitches rate among the league’s best in terms of movement. His cut-fastball is in the 96th percentile for spin rate and his curve is in the 86th percentile, per Statcast. The high spin rate makes those pitches difficult for opposing batters to square up, limiting the amount of hard contact he allows. Harris ranks in the 84th percentile in Hard-Hit Percentage.
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He doesn’t come with the proven closer tag but Harris has collected 20 rouge saves in his career, including a career-high 12 during his All-Star campaign in 2016. The Red Sox don’t necessarily need a closer with Brandon Workman thriving in the role down the stretch last season. The lack of saves on Harris’ resume could be what’s keeping his price in check, which benefits a Boston club working on a budget.
The 35-year old is unlikely to receive more than a two-year deal but a short commitment for a reliever with a strong track record would be appealing to most contenders. If the Red Sox expect to contend for a playoff spot, upgrading a bullpen that was inconsistent for most of last season should be a priority. The front office continues to reiterate their confidence in unloading one of their high-priced starting pitchers to create payroll flexibility, in which case adding a reliever in Harris’ price range is realistic.
Even if the Red Sox determine they can’t afford $7 million for a reliever, Harris signing for that amount could depress the remaining reliever market. Daniel Hudson, Steve Cishek, and Craig Stammen are among the next tier of free-agent relievers. If Harris signs for less than expected, perhaps those options will end up being cheaper than they were projected to be.
Either way, there is a viable path for the Red Sox to improve their bullpen in free agency without breaking the bank.