Red Sox reliever Adam Ottavino “would love to come back” to Boston

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 25: Adam Ottavino #0 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the eighth inning of a game against the New York Yankees on June 25, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 25: Adam Ottavino #0 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the eighth inning of a game against the New York Yankees on June 25, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Adam Ottavino will give the Red Sox a chance to re-sign him

Solidifying the bullpen will be among the priorities for the Boston Red Sox this offseason. While we expect them to dive into the free-agent waters in search of upgrades, keeping one of their core relievers off the market would be another step toward building a strong bullpen.

The New York Yankees traded Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox back in February in a pure salary dump. Desperate to dip under the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees sent pitching prospect Frank German to their biggest rival in order to entice Boston into taking on most of Ottavino’s remaining contract.

Ottavino was reluctant to spend his final season before hitting free agency with a team that finished with the fourth-worst record in baseball during the shortened 2020 season but he quickly changed his tune. The Red Sox are a far more appealing destination after earning a Wild Card spot and making a deep playoff run. Now Ottavino says he would love to come back, according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

"“Seven months ago I didn’t know how good we were going to be,” said Ottavino. “I didn’t know if I was going to be traded at the deadline, or if we were going to be mediocre. Clearly, I figured out we were pretty good right away so that was exciting. It was always a place I wanted to play. I really love the coaching staff and support staff. I told my wife in May, ‘I’m falling in love again. I don’t know if this is good for my heart.’ It’s been great. I’m really glad it went this way.”"

It’s clear that Ottavino has enjoyed his time in Boston and he’s open to extending his stay beyond one season. Is the feeling mutual?

The 35-year-old filled an important high-leverage setup role for the Red Sox this season but his overall results were slightly underwhelming. He went 7-3 and notched 11 saves but posted a mediocre 4.21 ERA. His 10.3 K/9, while strong by most standards, represents his lowest strikeout rate since 2014. He also walked far too many batters with a 5.1 BB/9.

Ottavino doesn’t have the same leverage he held the last time he tested free agency following an excellent 2018 campaign that earned him a three-year, $27 million deal from the Yankees. He won’t find that type of payday this time but if the Red Sox can get him for a fraction of that cost, Ottavino can still be a useful asset to their bullpen.

His struggles were primarily against lefties, against whom he allowed a .274 batting average this season. Ottavino was one of Boston’s best pitchers against right-handed batters though, holding them to a .219 average.

The Red Sox were able to get the most out of lefty relievers Josh Taylor and Austin Davis by strategically deploying them against lefties. MLB’s three-batter rule makes it more complicated than it was in the past but it should be easier to use Ottavino in a similar fashion against right-handed bats since most opposing lineups aren’t stacked with lefties.

Being more cautious about when to utilize Ottavino would also help keep his workload in check. Ottavino led the team with 69 appearances and his 62 innings trailed only Garrett Whitlock among Red Sox relievers. The heavy usage caught up with him down the stretch. After not allowing a home run through the first five months, Ottavino served up five homers from September 4 through the end of the regular season. He owned an 8.10 ERA over 10 innings in September/October, his worst of any month this season.

He isn’t going to get anywhere near the $9 million he made this year but Ottavino can still provide value on a cheaper deal. A short-term deal at a more affordable salary could be beneficial for both sides. Ottavino would continue pitching for a contender he has grown fond of and the Red Sox get a battled-tested reliever who is still effective against right-handed hitters. The savings from re-signing Ottavino to a less expensive contract can be allocated toward adding another free-agent reliever who can fill a late-inning role.

With starting pitchers on a shorter leash than ever, especially in the postseason, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on building a deep bullpen. The Red Sox have a proven commodity who has been open about his desire to stay here. Working out a new deal for Ottavino should be an easy choice even as they seek additional bullpen upgrades.

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