2. The Red Sox need a closer, and it probably won’t come internally.
By most accounts, the bullpen has been a pleasant surprise to start the season. One silver lining of the truncated Spring Training has been that the Red Sox get to carry two extra pitchers on the roster for the first month of the season. This has allowed Alex Cora to get an extended look at fringe bullpen options.
But even with the extra arms on the staff to begin the year, no one has emerged as a candidate to take control of the 9th inning.
Jake Diekman and Kutter Crawford both showed that they might have the stuff during the Yankees series, but both followed that up with less-than-ideal performances in the series finale against the Tigers.
Matt Barnes returned during the series, appearing in the 6th inning of games 1 and 3 and didn’t allow a run. But that may provide more reason to think he is better served as a mid-inning or setup option than as a closer considering his woes during the second half of last season.
Matt Strahm is a name that has been mentioned as a possibility, but he threw just 0.2 innings during the series and wasn’t brought in during either save situation. Strahm’s repertoire is not traditional of a closer and he looks like he may be best utilized as a guy who can come in with runners on base.
Garrett Whitlock may end up getting a few saves by the nature of what his role appears to be, but it looks all but certain that he won’t have the availability needed to be a regular closer. That said, the role he is slated for this year appears to be a big one for this team.
Hansel Robles shut the door on a potential disaster during Game 3 of the series and, if there is a favorite to win the job, it appears to be him as of now. But Robles is 31 years old, and we know what he is at this point of his career. He has proven that he can get big outs, but he is also inconsistent. And an inconsistent closer is something that can cost a team down the stretch.
Josh Taylor might be the most intriguing option of the group, and he proved last year that he can be an elite arm when healthy and his command is working. But injuries have become an issue for him recently, and he is currently spending his fourth stint on the Injured List since last August.
Since 2004, every Red Sox team that has won the World Series has a had a clear and proven closer at the backend of the bullpen. The current Red Sox bullpen looks a lot better thus far than most people expected, but the recent Detroit series showed that the pitcher to fill the closer role probably isn’t on the active roster.
Expect the Red Sox to be tied to most relievers, especially with closing experience, that become available on the trade market as the season unfolds.