First Place Red Sox Are Going To Need Some Bullpen Help This Summer

Boston Red Sox's Koji Uehara follows through on a pitch against Cleveland Indians in the eighth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Sunday, May 22, 2016, in Boston. Boston won 5-2. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It is May 26, the mid-season trade deadline is just a shade over two months away. The Boston Red Sox are 29-17. They own the best record in the American League and sit atop the American League East. Their plus-78 run differential is second in the majors and their 274 runs scored leads all of baseball.

If all of that information leads to an assumption that the Red Sox are likely to be in the market for pitching over the next two months, then you’d be correct.

Yes there’s a case to be made for a left fielder. Even before Brock Holt’s concussion he was one of the weakest links in the Red Sox lineup. Current left fielder Blake Swihart is a converted catcher, and a permanent switch to left field would hurt his overall value.

Chris Young is best-suited in his current role, playing against lefties and siting against righties.

Rusney Castillo is in Pawtucket, but he’s not thriving there. His .254/.308/.311 slash line certainly does not warrant a promotion.

The Red Sox top outfield prospect is 2015 first round draft pick Andrew Benintendi. The talent is there, but he’s still struggling to adjust to Double-A baseball, never mind the big leagues.

That being said, with the Red Sox lineup producing runs better than any lineup in the majors, there’s little reason for team president Dave Dombrowski to trade for an outfielder, unless of course the offer is too good to turn down or ignore.

Pitching is another story.

The starting rotation has issues. Clay Buchholz seems determined to throw one bad inning per outing, and that’s just not good enough for the Red Sox.

Joe Kelly returned from the disabled list and performed better than anyone would have ever expected. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and led the Red Sox to a commanding 9-1 win over the visiting Cleveland Indians.

Tuesday night Eduardo Rodriguez, who has yet to pitch in the majors this season, fired seven innings of one-run, four-hit baseball. Along the way he struck out seven and walked none.

It was the most encouraging start of Rodriguez’s rehab stint. The Red Sox have yet to announce a return date for Rodriguez, but one would think that he can’t be too far from a 2016 Red Sox debut.

The sooner the better too. The Red Sox need to figure out whether or not they’re going to pursue a starting pitcher this summer.

If the team is ready to settle on a rotation of Price, Porcello, Wright, and two members of the Buchholz, Kelly, Rodriguez trio, then they don’t really need to add a starting pitcher. That’s a good thing because the market for starting pitchers promises to be rather thin this summer. The best name out there just might end up being Rich Hill. One would think that the Red Sox would prefer to not have to ship the Oakland A’s prospects in return for a journeyman starter they let walk via free-agency less than a year ago.

That leaves the bullpen.

It was supposed to be a deep, effective bullpen. To this point the pen has been pretty darn good. Craig Kimbrel had some early season missteps, but he’s been exceptional for most of the season.

Boston’s bullpen earned run average is 3.04, good for fifth in the 15-team American League. The issue is depth. Boston’s pen has worked 142.1 innings. That’s seventh highest in the league, but only one of the six teams ahead of them would currently qualify for the playoffs.

October baseball puts an extra strain on bullpens. If the Red Sox have genuine playoff expectations, then the bullpen is going to need some reinforcements.

That need became even more stark when offseason addition Carson Smith underwent season-ending tommy john surgery Tuesday.

The good news for the Red Sox is that they don’t need a closer. Kimbrel has more than settled in to the job and looks like he’s primed to be dominate hitters through the remainder of the 2016 season, and beyond.

They’re going to need one more arm to give guys like Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa more time off between outings.

There will be plenty of available arms. The first place to look is at teams that won’t make the playoffs. Oakland’s Ryan Madson is one name to keep an eye on.

Madson is both a former (Philadelphia 2011) and current (11 saves so far in 2016) closer. He was a key part of the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals bullpen last season. He appeared in 68 games, pitched 63.1 innings, and finished the year with an ERA of 2.13.

Madson is in the first year of a three-year, $22 million contract. That’s probably more than the Red Sox would want to absorb, but keep in mind that 41-year-old Koji Uehara will be a free-agent after this season.

There’s a good chance that the Red Sox will need to add an above average late-inning arm this coming offseason, and Madson’s contract is probably cheaper than what the Red Sox would find on the free-agent market.

Adding Madson wouldn’t just give them needed depth this season, it would be a good way to prepare for 2017 as well.

Madson isn’t the only option.

The Houston Astros gave up a lot to acquire Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies. Giles failed to secure the closers job this year, but the Astros aren’t about to give-up on the hard-throwing 25 year old.

Houston is currently relying on 32-year-old Luke Gregerson to finish games. Gregerson is in the second year of a three-year, $18.5 million deal. The Astros are 19-28, they’re in last place in the AL West, 9.5 games back from first place Seattle. It is too soon to know whether or not the 2015 wild card squad will give-up on returning to the playoffs this season, but the team’s trajectory isn’t encouraging.

Gregerson is the type of player that a playoff contending Astros team wouldn’t think of parting with, but the longer the team languishes in last place, the more likely they’ll be open to shipping Gregerson out of town.

There are also two relievers in the division who could find themselves on the trading block.

One is old friend Andrew Miller. It is tough to think of a better potential addition for the Red Sox than Miller.

A seasoned veteran who played a key role on the 2013 World Series Champion squad. Over the last three-plus seasons, Miller has been one of baseball’s most dominant late-inning options. Over that time he’s gone from the pressure packed atmosphere of Boston to the bullpen of the Baltimore Orioles to the even more pressure-packed world of the Bronx.

Through 18.2 innings of action this season Miller has 33 strikeouts and one walk, his earned run average is a whopping 0.96. Of course the thought of the Red Sox and Yankees pulling off a significant mid-season trade is fairly far-fetched.

Would the Red Sox really want to part with one, or even more than one of their top prospects to acquire Miller? Even if he continued his dominance through 2016 and beyond, the prospect of watching a former Red Sox farmhand wreck havoc on the league wearing pinstripes might be a bit much for Dave Dombrowski and company to risk.

Toronto is a different story. After all, the Red Sox and Blue Jays have pulled off trades before, the most significant one in recent memory brought current Red Sox manager John Farrell to Boston prior to the 2013 season.

The Blue Jays are 21-23, that puts them in last place in the AL East. They’ve got a great young closer in Roberto Osuna, but they’ve also got a seasoned set-up man in Drew Storen.

Storen isn’t as good as Miller (few relievers are,) his contract expires following this season so he’d be nothing more than a two-to-three month rental. He’s off to a bad start which could mean he’s not as good as he used to be, or it could mean he’s poised for a big second half in which case the Red Sox might be able to buy-low on the 28 year old righty.

Of course there’s some risk there too. The Red Sox wouldn’t have to give up as much to get Storen, but the return would likely not be as good as it would be with Gregerson, Madson or Miller. That expiring contract means that the Red Sox would need to seriously consider trading for, or signing another relief pitcher this coming offseason.

The Red Sox have a two-game lead over Baltimore. Jackie Bradley Jr has a hit in 29 consecutive games, Xander Bogaerts has a hit in 18-consecutive contests. David Price looks better, Steven Wright is still looking good, and David Ortiz appears unstoppable.

Thursday night the Red Sox will try and pull-off a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies. First pitch from Fenway is scheduled for 7:10 pm ET. The Red Sox will send a former top pitching prospect, Clay Buchholz (2-4, 5.92) to the mound. Colorado will counter with one of their best young arms, the number 3 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, Jon Gray (1-2, 6.75.)

 

About the Author

Ben Shapiro

Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog.

I’ve previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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