Red Sox lock down bullpen by avoiding arbitration with key relievers

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after making the third out in the eighth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on June 13, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after making the third out in the eighth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on June 13, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox were able to lock down their bullpen ahead of the 2020 season by avoiding arbitration with some key relievers on the roster.

Today is one of the biggest days of the offseason as teams all around the league begin the next chapter of the arbitration process. Last month the Red Sox tendered contracts to those heading for arbitration to guarantee they’d be on the Opening Day roster, trades pending. As far as today is concerned, Chaim Bloom will make his offers to those eligible and the players must choose to accept or head to a hearing to command a higher wage.

Mark Feinsand of first reported that Boston got some good news today as key relievers Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Brandon Workman all accepted their offers. This will not only save the Red Sox money as they will avoid the hearing process but it also locks down two key relievers for 2020.

Red Sox Nation may not be the most excited about the two relievers returning but the team needs as much depth in the pen as possible and both can be useful this season. Barnes and Hembree aren’t the most beloved by the fanbase but they can be electric when their stuff is locked in.

Barnes just completed his sixth season with the Red Sox with relatively consistent numbers over his career. He has a 4.07 ERA in 314.1 IP with a 25-18 record over those six years. As far as the 2019 season played out he finished with a 5-4 record, 3.78 ERA, 15.4 K/9, and a 1.383 WHIP in 64.1 IP.

There were definitely positives for Barnes over this previous campaign, but he was the most used reliever in the heart of the season, and it caused his arm to breakdown a bit towards the end of the season. He was called upon the most in the month of June and that would play a role in the quality of his appearances to dip as the season progressed.

Hembree is a seven-year veteran of the league having spent all but one of those with the Red Sox. Sadly for the right-hander, he missed some big chunks of the season due to a pair of right elbow injuries. All in all, he would miss around two months of the season thanks to his pesky right elbow but when he was active he was fire. He was reliable at a time when the bullpen didn’t feel like it could be trusted but that time wouldn’t last long.

In 2019, Hembree totaled a 3.86 ERA in 39.2 IP which also earned him a 1-0 record. The reliever had a killer 11.4 K/9 during the campaign with an inverse BB/9 of 4.1, but his 1.311 WHIP didn’t earn him any fans. If he can get his elbow healed up and feeling right going into Spring Training, I think he can be a key member of the bullpen for 2020.

Workman became a fan favorite in 2018 as Boston marched towards another World Series crown. Not only did he finish that year with a shiny new piece of jewelry but he also tallied a 6-1 record through 41.1 innings with a 3.27 ERA. It was the best year of his career until 2019 came around and he did the damn thing.

This past season was the dictionary definition of a breakout campaign for the righty. He got consistent work out of the pen, and as the season finished he had not only earned the closer role and seemingly has it locked up for 2020. His 10-1, 1.88 ERA, 71.2 IP, 1.033 WHIP, 13.1 K/9 line for 2019 was the best of his career and proved he could be dominant. His nasty curveball prompted Red Sox legend Dennis Eckersley to dub him the “Yakman.”

As we get closer to the 2020 season I truly feel that he will be the closer as we kick-off Opening Day. He did more than enough to earn the position in 2019 and I don’t see anyone else on the roster that can usurp him from the throne.

All season long the big gripe and complaint about the Red Sox bullpen were the blown saves. A metric that in my eyes is beyond flawed. A pitcher can only earn a save if they finish out the game but they can be charged with a blown save before that point. It doesn’t quite add up when you throw some logic at it but this is the world we’re living in.

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Boston finished the season with 31 total blown saves which did lead the league. However, they ended the year level with Oakland and had just two more than Dodgers, Mariners, and Nationals. So in the grand scheme, the blown saves were a factor in the poor season by the Red Sox but they weren’t that much worse than the rest of the league.

Also, I just mentioned the World Series champion Nationals as one of the worst with blown saves, EVER HEARD OF ‘EM?!?

The projections for the three pitchers had Barnes earning $3.0M, Hembree $1.6M, and Workman $3.4M, and they weren’t far off. Each reliever not only earned what they were projected but actually got a little raise above those figures. In 2020 Barnes will earn $3.1M, Hembree $1.61, and Workman will get $3.5M. All are fair wages and definitely earned after the work the relievers put in during 2019.

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Today was a big day for the Red Sox as they were able to mold their bullpen and retain key relievers without breaking the bank. Chaim Bloom definitely went into today with the overall budget in mind and has to be happy with what he accomplished. With the bullpen set going into Spring Training he can now focus on the rest of the lineup going forward.