MLB Trade Rumors on Tuesday released their annual predictions for where this year’s crop of top 50 free agents will land this winter.
As it is already known, the Red Sox find themselves needing help out of the bullpen. That much is evident by how team chairman Tom Werner said that, ” we’re going to hopefully supplement our relief pitching,” back in September.
Whether adding new arms to the mix comes via trade or free agency has yet to be determined, but that should not stop new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from exploring his options.
Last month, I brought up the idea of the club reaching out to right-handed reliever and Massachusetts native Steve Cishek. Now, I am going to throw out another name who also spent the 2019 season with the Chicago Cubs in right-hander Pedro Strop.
MLBTR has the 34-year-old inking a one-year, $5 million deal with the Sox this winter.
Strop is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he posted a 4.97 ERA and 4.53 FIP over 50 relief appearances and 41 2/3 innings of work. Those numbers may not seem great on the surface, but it is worth mentioning that Strop did spend time on the injured list twice this year due to a left hamstring strain in May and left neck tightness in late July/early August.
Before that though, the Dominican Republic native had established himself as one of the better relievers in the National League since joining the Cubs from the Baltimore Orioles as part of the Jake Arrieta trade in July 2013.
Strop’s pitch arsenal includes a slider, four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, and split-finger fastball. He certainly appears to be someone who could very well bounce back in 2020.
Although Strop was the only free agent directly linked to the Sox by MLBTR, other named that Boston could be interested in include Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Will Smith, Cole Hamels, Jose Abreu, Daniel Hudson, Brock Holt, and Rich Hill.
The 31-year-old wrapped up a stellar season by posting a 0.00 ERA and .326 OPS against over his final 12 appearances and 11 1/3 innings pitched of the year.
On the 2019 campaign as a whole, Workman really did break out in a tremendous way, posting an ERA of 1.88, xFIP of 3.33, batting average against of .123, and fWAR of 2.1 over a career-high 73 outings and 71 2/3 total innings of relief.
Brandon Workman held opponents to a .123 batting average in 2019 (29-for-235). That is the lowest mark for any pitcher since 1900 (min. 60.0 IP). His .166 opponent slugging % is the lowest in the expansion era (1961-2019).
From not even being on the World Series roster less than 12 full months ago to becoming one of, if not the most reliable reliever out of the Sox’ bullpen. 2019 was quite the year for Brandon Workman, and he will likely be rewarded with a sizable raise in his final season of arbitration because of it.
Thornburg, 30, was returned from his month-long rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday without being activated from the 10-day injured list with a right hip impingement, meaning the Sox had two days to decide whether to add the righty back to the active roster, designate him for assignment, or outright him.
On Tuesday, WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported that Thornburg would not accept a minor league assignment, so this outcome seemed the most likely before it even occurred.
Acquired by Boston from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for infielder Travis Shaw and minor leaguers, Yeison Coca, Maurico Dubon, and Josh Pennington in December of 2016, Thornburg’s tenure with the Red Sox did not go according to plan.
Given his reputation as one of the better setup men in the National League in his time with Milwaukee, Thornburg was seen as part of the bridge out of the Sox bullpen that would make way for Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning.
Instead, the Texas native missed all the 2017 season due to thoracic outlet syndrome in his throwing shoulder and did not make his Red Sox debut until July 6th of the following season.
There, Thornburg appeared in 25 games for Boston, posting a dismal 5.63 ERA and .901 OPS against over 24 innings pitched before being shut down for the remainder of the year on September 26th.
This year, the former third round pick made his first Opening Day roster as a member of the Red Sox, and allowed 16 earned runs on 21 hits and 10 walks to go along with 22 strikeouts over 16 appearances and 18 2/3 innings of work. That’s good for an ERA of 7.71 and OPS against of .972. Not great.
Thornburg yielded two runs on two hits and two walks in the sixth inning of a 10-3 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays on may 21st, two days before he was placed on the IL.
While rehabbing with the PawSox, Thornburg posted a 12.66 ERA and 2.44 WHIP over 11 outings (one start) and just 10 2/3 frames pitched.
As mentioned before, his reputation while with the Brewers should give Thornburg another shot with another club, but it was clear that the marriage between him and the Red Sox was never going to work out. Perhaps a change of scenery will do him better.
Out of all the trades Dave Dombrowski has made since taking over as the Red Sox’ president of baseball operations in 2015, this particular one he made with David Stearns should go down as one of the worst.
The Red Sox virtually got nothing of value out of Thornburg while he was with the club, nor could they flip him for any sort of asset(s) either.
Instead, Travis Shaw, despite being demoted to Triple-A San Antonio last month, has gone on to have two 30-plus home run seasons with the Brewers.
Mauricio Dubon, meanwhile, worked his way to becoming Milwaukee’s fifth-ranked prospect before getting the call up the majors on July 7th, where he will look to provide infield depth to a team competing for a National League Central crown.
All this transpiring while the Red Sox continue to deal with struggles in their bullpen and may even trade for a reliever of Thornburg’s perceived caliber before he arrived in Boston.
After it was reported by NESN’s Tom Caron on Monday that Nathan Eovaldi will become the Red Sox’ closer when he returns from the injured list, manager Alex Cora made things official in Toronto on Tuesday, stating that the right-hander will move to the bullpen once he is healthy.
Cora: “We’ve been talking about Eovaldi to the pen for the last few weeks, for him to contribute as soon as possible it makes sense for everyone. It’s been an ongoing dialog the last 15 days, he gave us his blessing. We are not closing the door on him starting later this season.”
“We’re about to find out if he is built for high leverage situations, this is a new role for him. Eovaldi will embrace it. We will take care of him. Funny, everyone is saying closer…but he’ll help in the bullpen. Haven’t made that decision.” from MLB Radio
Although there was no clear indication that Eovaldi will serve as a traditional closer for Boston, this moves come at a time when the Sox’ bullpen has been under heavy scrutiny lately, especially during this past weekend’s series against the New York Yankees in London.
Since June 20th, Red Sox relievers have posted a cumulative 8.73 ERA and .321 batting average against over their last eight games played, both the worst in all of baseball in that span.
Eovaldi, 29, last recorded a save on June 14, 2009, more than 10 years ago, when he was a prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and pitching for the Class-A Great Lakes Loons.
In eight career big league appearances as a reliever, the Texas Native owns a lifetime 3.21 ERA and .188 batting average against over 14 total innings of work.
The Red Sox this season lead the American League in blown saves with 17 in 34 opportunities, so the need is obviously there to bolster the back end of a struggling bullpen.
Matt Barnes was viewed as the man who would see the most high leverage opportunities for Boston, but now it appears that role will shift over to Eovaldi once he returns from the IL.
One problem that comes into light once this move is made would be the Sox’ starting rotation.
Eovaldi inked a four-year, $68 milliion deal with Boston back in December to be a starter, he said as much during his press conference at the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas.
“There were a lot of teams that reached out, wanted me to be a closer,” Eovaldi said. “I view myself as a starter, and that’s something I’ve always done my entire career. And I enjoy doing that. So if I had that choice, I still wanted to be a starter.”
Moving Eovaldi to the ‘pen would leave the Red Sox with the same issue they have been trying to deal with in the righty’s absence, that being the fifth and final spot in the rotation.
So far, names such as Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Josh Smith, and Ryan Weber have made spot starts for Boston, and none have ran into a great deal of success in that role.
When speaking with MLB Network Radio on Tuesday, Cora did not rule out the possibility of Eovaldi returning to the starting rotation later in the season.
Out since the middle of April while recovering from right elbow surgery to remove loose bodies from the area, Eovaldi could be back sooner rather than later now that he will not have to ramp up his workload.
There’s also no guarantee that the former 11th round pick, who as already mentioned has no real closing experience, will be a shutdown reliever once he makes his return. How will his elbow react to working multiple times in a week, compared to just once every five days? That much is unknown.
This all goes to show how unprepared the Red Sox were for the 2019 season. They lost two key pieces of their World Series-winning bullpen in Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, and did almost nothing to address it outside of acquiring Colten Brewer.
I wrote on Sunday about how this Red Sox bullpen needs help from the outside. With the way things are trending, the three relievers Boston has frequently turned to so far this season will be burned out later in the year.
Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier have seen their share of struggles in June, Brandon Workman is averaging nearly seven walks per nine innings this season, and Heath Hembree has been missed during his time on the injured list.
It’s been well stated that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski should look to upgrade his bullpen before the July 31st trading deadline, so here are five names I think he and the Red Sox should target.
LHP Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
As the featured image would indicate, Giants closer Will Smith first comes to mind for upgrading the Red Sox’ bullpen situation.
Set to turn 30 next month and become a free agent this winter, the left-hander has had a fantastic year in his second full season with San Francisco, posting a 2.01 ERA and 2.10 FIP over 32 appearances and 31 1/3 innings while averaging more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings and holding opposing hitters to a .157 batting average against.
Given that Sox manager Alex Cora has decided to go without a traditional closer so far in 2019, Smith could provide the reigning World Series champs with what they have been missing in that traditional ninth inning man.
LHP Tony Watson, San Francisco Giants
Another left-handed Giants reliever, Watson’s current contract runs through the end of the 2019 campaign and includes a player option for next year.
Now in his second season with San Francisco, the 34-year-old hurler hasn’t picked up a save in a game since he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017, but he can still provide help and experience to a club that is in need of it.
Through 33 appearances and 30 2/3 frames of work in 2019, Watson owns an ERA of 2.64 and a slightly higher FIP of 3.87. He is averaging nearly seven strikeouts per nine and opponents are hitting .250 off of him.
Obviously, these numbers are not as elite as Smith’s, but I think it would be worth the Red Sox’ time and effort to look into acquiring Watson, especially if the former has a hefty asking price.
LHP Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
The third and final southpaw on this list, Doolittle has a team option attached to his deal that runs through the end of this season.
The 32-year-old has been a bright spot in what’s been another disappointing year for the Washington Nationals to this point, posting a 3.13 ERA and 2.87 FIP over 33 relief outings and 31 2/3 innings pitches.
A one time Oakland Athletic, Doolittle has converted 16 out of a possible 19 saves while averaging nearly 11 punchouts per nine and holding opposing hitters to a .254 batting average against.
With plenty of late-game experience in hand, Doolittle is another option that could alleviate some stress for the back end of the Boston ‘pen.
RHP Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Now on to the American League arms, and we’ll start with Tigers closer Shane Greene.
Acquired from the New York Yankees in December of 2014 when Dombrowski was still at the helm in Detroit, Greene has evolved from a failed starter to one of the better relievers in the AL in his time with the Tigers.
The 30-year-old righty, who still has one year of arbitration left, owns a minuscule ERA of 0.93 to go along with a FIP of 3.56 through 29 games this season. He has converted 21 of a possible 22 saves while limiting the opposition to a .154 clip.
In his time running baseball operations with Boston, Dombrowski has built a reputation of going out and acquiring or signing players he has had a history with. David Price, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler all come to mind. So, why not do it again by bringing in Greene to be the new Red Sox’ closer? The asking price may be high given the years of control and what not, but this is an avenue that at least needs to be explored.
RHP Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Finally, someone the Red Sox just saw this past weekend in Blue Jays closer Ken Giles.
Like Greene, the 28-year-old right-hander still has another year of arbitration remaining before hitting free agency following the 2020 season.
Since being acquired by Toronto from the Houston Astros last July, Giles has been solid, especially this season with an ERA of 1.33 and FIP of 1.07 through 27 appearances and 27 innings of work.
In those 27 outings, Giles has averaged 15.7 punchouts per nine innings while holding opposing hitters to just a .202 batting average against. He has also converted 12 of a possible 13 save opportunities.
Giles missed a little more than a week of action earlier this month due to inflammation in his right elbow, so that may be something to monitor.
The trade deadline is just over a month away and the Red Sox currently sit eight games back of the New Yankees for first place in the American League East.