A common thread for Red Sox success may be missing for 2021

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Trevor Rosenthal #47 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on September 27, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Trevor Rosenthal #47 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on September 27, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Red Sox past pitching success is indicative of the current need

Baseball revolves around pitching and in 2020 the fault lines for Boston Red Sox failure ran through that bump in the middle of the diamond. The rotation did nothing to minimize the anguish as the Red Sox tossed several into the offensive meat grinder which did nothing to temper or remedy the situation. A common pitching connection exists for the latest series of titles – and it may be missing or partially missing for 2021.

This century the Red Sox have four titles and in each one or more arms surfaced to claim ace status. The performances in 2004 of Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez with Schilling’s postseason a minted Red Sox legend. Josh Beckett stepping up in 2007 with 21 wins and going 4-0 in the postseason. Innings-eater Jon Lester in 2013 was the stopper with 33 starts and 15 wins. Lester then danced all over the Cards in the World Series, allowing a lone run in 15.1 innings.

In 2018, the Red Sox regular season had two pitchers who were solid plus Chris Sale. Sale started to show the wear and tear but posted a 6.5 fWAR in 27 starts. David Price in the postseason buried his demons going 3-0. Rick Porcello won 17 during the regular season so Boston had two former Cy Young winners with solid contributions.

Now the Red Sox start the 2021 season with two question marks in Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, but to resurrect Dr. Peale and the “Power of Positive Thinking,” I will be optimistic that by mid-season – if there is a season – both will be healthy, solid, and successful. Then comes the problem.

In 2004, the Red Sox bullpen had Keith Foulke who snatched 32 saves and smothered the opposition in the postseason. In 2007, Jonathan Papelbon and his hideous glare saved 37 games and finished off the Rockies three times. In 2013, the importance of the closer was readily apparent as Boston searched for a solution until Koji Uehara rescued the season. In 2018 it was Craig Kimbrel solid all season – as usual – and dancing on a tightrope in the playoffs.

The Red Sox closer situation is still in flux with the primary candidate being Matt Barnes. Barnes can have electric stuff and can just as easily meltdown with control deficiencies and a virulent strain of allowing home runs at the most inopportune of times.

Others available on the current roster have tried and failed. There was the arrival of a surprise in Phillips Valdez, a rookie with dynamite fastball and erratic control in Darwinzon Hernandez, and a veteran who brought his career back to life in Ryan Brasier. This is not exactly the arms one wishes to go to baseball war with as the closer department. As mentioned we have witnessed this before in 2013.

So where do they go? My favorite on the shopping list is Brad Hand who led the AL with 16 saves in 2020. Hand has the experience with 105 saves and an 82% save rate for his career. He was cut loose by the Indians, or whatever they are now called, over a $10 MM option. MLBTR has Hand pegged for a two-year deal at $14 MM and based on the Mets’ two-year $15.5 MM deal with Trevor May that could be an accurate figure.

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The left-handed Hand is not a hard thrower but righty Trevor Rosenthal at 30-years-old is still hitting the high 90s. Rosenthal has been through the health ringer and in 2020 showed the power pitcher who had two 40+ save seasons for the Cards is back. How good were Rosentahl’s numbers? A 14.5 K/9 and a 1.90 ERA/2.22 FIP along with 11/12 in saves. Rosenthal is also predicted at two years at $14 MM.

Last of note on the free-agent calendar is 34-year-old left-hander Kirby Yates. Yates gathered in 41 saves in 2019 to top the National League and then shoulder miseries hit the late-blooming Yates. Is he healthy? If 2019 was memorable then 2020 was forgettable with a 12.46 ERA/5.27 FIP in only 4.1 innings.

Yates relies on two pitchers – a mid-ranged 90s fastball and a split-finger. Yates is not a ground ball pitcher with a 38.2 career GB%. Rosenthal and Hand are both in the mid-40s on GB%, but Hand, Rosenthal, and Yates are all above average in K%. They just do it a bit differently. As far as money the MLBTR wisdom has Yates at one-year and $5MM.

The Red Sox need no convoluted closer dysfunction for 2021 and the three options all certainly have risks especially Yates returning from shoulder surgery. Rosenthal’s 2020 was a redemption season after three years of decline with a Tommy John surgery slipped in. And for Hand the question mark was slippage in velocity.

dark. Next. Bet on J.D. Martinez having a bounce-back season

The Red Sox payroll is currently in the $29 MM range before hitting the luxury tax so there is some fiscal room to add pitching. But just what price tag is Chaim Bloom willing to pay? The Red Sox may need to add a solid starter and certainly a solid closer if the past is any indicator of success. But then it is who and how much? I would love to see the Red Sox be able to squeeze in both Hand and Rosenthal.