The Red Sox have acquired left-handed reliever Richard Bleier from the Marlins in exchange for right-hander Matt Barnes and cash considerations, the club announced earlier Monday evening. In order to make room for Bleier on the 40-man roster, righty Franklin German was designated for assignment.
Bleier, who turns 36 in April, comes over to the Red Sox after spending the previous two-plus seasons with the Marlins. The lefty posted a 3.55 ERA and 3.27 FIP with 32 strikeouts to 10 walks in 55 relief appearances (50 2/3 innings pitched) for Miami last year.
A native of Miami Beach, Bleier was college teammates with Chris Sale at Florida Gulf Coast University before being selected by Texas in the sixth round of the 2008 amateur draft. He spent time in the Rangers, Blue Jays, and Nationals organizations before breaking in with the Yankees in 2016. After one season in the Bronx, Bleier was traded to the Orioles in February 2017. He established himself as a solid reliever in parts of three seasons with Baltimore and was traded to Miami in August 2020.
All told, Bleier owns a lifetime 3.06 ERA and 3.49 FIP with 171 strikeouts to 49 walks in 308 career appearances (two starts) spanning 299 2/3 innings of work seasons between the Yankees, Orioles, and Marlins. He has proven to be particularly effective against left-handed hitters in his seven big-league seasons, as evidenced by the fact that lefties have hit just .225/.260/.313 off him in his career. That includes a .676 OPS against in 2022.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Bleier operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a sinker, a cutter, a slider, a changeup, and a rarely-used four-seam fastball that typically sits between 90-91 mph. Last year, the veteran southpaw ranked in the 94th percentile of all major-league pitchers in walk rate (4.5 percent), the 90th percentile in barrel rate (4.5 percent), and the 77th percentile in chase rate (32.3 percent), per Baseball Savant.
Bleier is under contract for $3.5 million in 2023. He also has a $3.75 million club option for 2024 that comes with a $250,000 buyout, so the Red Sox have control over him for the next two seasons. Boston was in need of a left-handed reliever after trading Darwinzon Hernandez to the Orioles and Josh Taylor to the Royals in recent weeks.
The addition of Bleier is just the latest to what figures to be a new-look Red Sox bullpen in 2023. Since the hot stove season began in November, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have signed veterans like Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin and Joely Rodriguez while acquiring Wyatt Mills from Kansas City and trading away Barnes, Hernandez, and Taylor. Bleier and Rodriguez now project as the top two lefty options available out of the bullpen for manager Alex Cora heading into the spring.
In finding a trade partner for Barnes, the Red Sox were able to offload some the 32-year-old’s salary for this coming season. According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Boston is sending a little more than $5.5 million to Miami in this deal to cover part of Barnes’ $7.5 million salary for 2023 (and his $2.25 million club option for 2024). For competitive balance tax purposes, the Red Sox will be taking on approximately $9.25 million ($3.75 million for Bleier plus $5.5 million for Barnes), which represents a slight decrease from the $9.375 million Barnes would have cost on his own.
Barnes, who turns 33 in June, briefly held the title as the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox after Xander Bogaerts left for the Padres in free agency last month. He was expected to have an important role in the Red Sox bullpen in 2023 after a strong finish to his 2022 campaign, but he instead lost his spot on Boston’s 40-man roster when the signing of Adam Duvall was made official last Tuesday.
That Barnes was traded comes as somewhat of a surprise, but the former All-Star will now have the chance to bounce back with a new organization. The Red Sox originally selected Barnes with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft out of the University of Connecticut. He debuted for Boston in 2014 and currently ranks second in franchise history in both career relief appearances and relief strikeouts.
To begin the 2022 season, Barnes struggled to a 7.94 ERA (5.29 FIP) in his first 20 outings. The Red Sox placed him on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation in early June. Upon returning to action in early August, Barnes proceeded to put up a far more encouraging 1.59 ERA (2.80 FIP) with 20 strikeouts to nine walks over 24 outings (22 2/3 innings) to close out the year.
Despite those improved results, some within the Red Sox organization “believe Barnes’ late-season showing was not as impressive as the numbers show,” according to Cotillo. While Barnes was initially expected to be a key part of Boston’s bullpen in 2023, Cotillo reports that the club “plans on prioritizing flexibility when it comes to its bullpen,” meaning younger pitchers with minor-league options — such as Mills or Kaleb Ort — took precedence over Barnes.
Barnes becomes the latest member of the 2022 Red Sox to jettison the organization this winter, joining other mainstays such as Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi, who all signed elsewhere in free agency. With Barnes’ departure, Ryan Brasier, Rafael Devers, and Chris Sale are now the only three players remaining from Boston’s 2018 World Series championship team.
(Picture of Matt Barnes: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)