Chaim Bloom must find the Red Sox a closer ASAP
It’s been two seasons since the Red Sox had a legitimate closer on the roster and coincidentally enough, it was the last time they had a successful season. Boston stormed through 2018 on their way to a World Series crown on the backs of strong starting pitching, a monster offense, and a reliable shutdown closer. Since Craig Kimbrel left through free agency after that year it’s been downhill when the game gets late.
Boston has toyed around with several arms in the wake of Kimbrel’s departure to close out games with little to no success. Matt Barnes has a penchant for blowing games right as the Red Sox have the win within reach. Josh Taylor and Ryan Brasier both saw success and failure in the role as neither got into the groove of shutting down the opposition.
Brandon Workman was the most successful of the closer by committee squad as he finished 2019 with a 10-1/1.88/71.2/2.46 line with 16 saves. He was named the closer for the 2020 season and it was well deserved based on 2019.
Unfortunately for him, the Red Sox were well out of reach of winning most of their games in 2020 and he didn’t get many save opportunities. As free agency approached he was traded to the Phillies at the deadline where he didn’t see much success.
So where do the Red Sox go from here? There are some free-agent options available on the reliever market as well as some in-house arms that could fill the void. No matter the route that Chaim Bloom takes this winter he needs to act and act fast so the selected pitcher can get themselves ready to rock for 2021. Boston has the money to go out and sign a reliever and it may be the best option as we’ve all seen this bullpen in action.
Free-agent relief options for the Red Sox
I’ve spoken about Boston’s need to sign some free-agent relievers before and I focused on two guys, Trevor May and Trevor Rosenthal. I know most of the baseball world is waiting with bated breath on the decision of a different Trevor, but these two could be massive additions to any team. Seriously though, what a wild time we live in that three pitchers with the same name are all free agents at the same time, 2020 ya’ll.
Trevor May has been on a tear the last few years and has seemingly found the gear that he’s been looking for. For the first three seasons of his MLB career, he had mixed results but showed promise until a torn UCL took him out for the entirety of 2017. Since his return in 2018, May has been damn near lights out posting a 10-4 record through 103.2IP with a 3.21 ERA and 3.66 FIP. He’s also showing a 1.39 HR/9, 2.95 BB/9, 11.89 K/9, and a .262 BABIP.
He only has six saves in that same time frame but pairs that with 27 holds, which I’ll gladly take. May earned just of $2MM for the 2020 season and can be a hell of a pickup for cheap that will surely pique Bloom’s interest.
Signing a quality reliever for a bargain would be a win-win for Bloom and the Red Sox. Beef up the bullpen while not dipping too much into the budget, can’t complain there.
The other Trevor on my list is the aforementioned Trevor Rosenthal. The righty has bounced around a bit since being released by the Cardinals after the 2017 season. Stops in Washington, Detroit, Kansas City, and San Diego in the last two years have kept him from unpacking his bags. Now he’s a free agent with a low price tag and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team scoop him up soon, enter Boston.
Rosenthal rebounded big time in 2020 with a 1.90 ERA, 2.22 FIP, and 11 saves through 23.2IP. He also had a killer 14.5 K/9 in comparison to his 3.0 BB/9 and 0.8 H/9, perfect stuff for a late-game hurler. He is my ideal choice to be Boston’s next closer if they go the free-agent route as he has the stuff that the Red Sox need in the ninth to shut things down.
But, what if Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox chose to stay in-house for their next closer?
In-house closer options for the Red Sox
Two names popped right out at me as I was looking at the current 40-man roster and they would be Phillips Valdez and Darwinzon Hernandez. I know, not the most obvious of choices but I chose these two for specific reasons. First of all, they’re both on the roster and wouldn’t cost Boston anything more than what they’d already been paying them. We’ve also seen enough of each to see that both have the potential for a more meaningful role on the pitching staff than just early relievers.
For Valdez, he has something intangible about the way that he works on the mound that stood out this past season. In a year filled with awful pitching, he was one of the few bright spots that could give Boston fans some hope. A 3.26 ERA in 30.1 IP was rather impressive though it was backed by a 1.615 WHIP and 30/16 K/BB ratio.
The righty has this rare ability to not only get himself out of trouble but he was able to get other pitchers out of trouble as well. It didn’t seem to matter what the situation was that he was brought into this past year he was able to get the job done. And even when he did let runners on the base paths he found a way out of it more often than not. His stuff isn’t electric like Hernandez, but it gets the job done and Boston needs that more than anything right now.
Now it’s time to talk about Hernandez, this guy throws rockets out of his arm. Which, unfortunately, is his biggest key to success and the easiest path to failure. He can flirt with triple digits on his fastball without even trying, a blessing and a curse really. By reaching those speeds he can fool batters when he does slow it down with his off-speed stuff or can simply blow it right by them.
However, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years, that speed can often lead to the inability to control where the pitch is going. Look no further than his BB/9 over 2019 and 2020 as it was 7.7 and 8.6 respectively. As I said above, it can also lead to a lot of swings and misses as we again saw in 2019 and 2020 with 16.9 and 14.0. He didn’t pitch this season due to missing time thanks to COVID but he did make it into seven games where he posted a 1-0/2.16/8.1/3.31 line, but again, that 1.560 WHIP was atrocious.
I think Hernandez could be one hell of a closer if he gets the right coaching from the Red Sox staff. Instead of pushing him to get closer to the 100 MPH mark on the radar gun, maybe tick a few notches off and gain more in the control department. As great as it is to be able to hit three figures on the gun, if you can’t control where it’s going, it doesn’t mean a damn thing. If he shoots more for the 92-95 MPH range while bolstering his arsenal, he could be a filthy closer.
Chaim Bloom has made it clear that the Red Sox have their biggest focus on the pitching staff this offseason. As much as the team needs to add to the starting rotation and another reliever or two, they need to make sure they have their set guy to close out the close games. Boston can’t afford to wade through another season without a closer to finish things off. The four I listed above all have the ability to get the job done when called upon, it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity.