Boston's Bullpen Disaster: 10 Relievers the Red Sox Should Trade For
With new Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey expected to miss the next three to four months, who will step up to anchor the back of Boston’s bullpen? The putrid performances of both Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves in two of the team’s three losses in Detroit make this an even more pressing question.
Depth was an issue with the bullpen—and the pitching staff as a whole—before the regular season began, and that has only been reinforced through the first three games. And if the limited quantity of good pitchers fails to deliver quality outings, the Red Sox are going to miss the postseason for the third straight year.
Here are 10 relief pitchers Boston should consider trading for before they fall too far behind in the standings.
Chris Perez, Indians
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With 59 saves over the past two seasons courtesy of an overpowering fastball, Perez is one of the better young closers in baseball. So why would the Indians consider dealing him?
For starters, Perez is due $4.5 million in 2012 and eligible for arbitration the following two seasons. While it’s not a backbreaking sum of money, Cleveland could still want to let him go before he gets too expensive and get some younger prospects in exchange.
There is also the possibility that Perez could be supplanted as the Indians closer. Vinnie Pestano was arguably the Tribe’s best reliever in 2011. Compared to Perez, he recorded more strikeouts, allowed fewer hits and finished the season with a lower WHIP and ERA. If Perez’s blown save on Opening Day is a harbinger of things to come, Pestano could get more opportunities to close out games
Perez is also struggling with an oblique injury he suffered during spring training. If he suffers a Wally Pipp-like situation at the hands of Pestano, the Indians could see him as expendable and pass him off to a team like the Red Sox in dire need of bullpen help.
Francisco Cordero, Blue Jays
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Yes, intra-division trades—particularly those in the ultra-competitive AL East—are rare. But it doesn’t hurt to ask (for a front office) or to hope (for a fan).
The 36-year-old Cordero has said all the right things since Toronto brought him in to be a setup man to new Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos. “They explained to me what my role is going to be, I agreed to it, and I’ll be more than happy to do it,” he told the Toronto Sun back in February. Yet he would likely be ecstatic at the opportunity to be a closer again.
And if neither Aceves nor Melancon impresses as Boston’s closer between now and the trade deadline, the Red Sox brass should make a wholehearted appeal to Cordero and the Blue Jays. He’s only signed with Toronto through the end of the 2012 season, and if the Blue Jays aren’t able to make inroads in the division race like they hoped, they’ll be more willing to part with him.
And the Red Sox will be more than happy to have him—and his 327 career saves.
Matt Thornton, White Sox
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Thornton is due $5.5 million in each of the next two seasons and was the subject of trade rumors in November and December of last year. Even though he wasn’t moved in the offseason, he’s still high on the White Sox’s list of players they’d like to deal in order to trim payroll.
The 35-year-old lefty was one of Chicago’s options to start the year as the closer. Yet the Pale Hose opted to go with Hector Santiago—who posted a dominant 0.82 ERA in spring training—for their first save opportunity of the season (which Santiago successfully converted).
And while Thornton was setup man for Saturday’s win, there’s no guarantee that he’ll have that role for the duration of the season. Jesse Crain is in the second season of a three-year deal and is five years younger than Thornton. And closer of the future Addison Reed is expected to cut his teeth this season in a similar role.
Thornton isn’t the same pitcher he used to be, but as a lefty with a plus fastball he could prove extremely valuable as a trade commodity—both for the White Sox and whichever team they trade him to.
Jonathan Broxton, Royals
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Broxton starts out the season as the Royals’closer with Joakim Soria lost for the year to Tommy John surgery. But the former Dodger—signed to a one-year deal last November—does not figure into the long-term plans of the team and would be ripe for a trade if Kansas City falls out of playoff contention.
Should that be the case, the Royals brass would be quick to give Greg Holland an opportunity to be the team’s closer. He’s a year-and-a-half younger than Broxton and registered a stellar 1.80 ERA and 74/19 strikeout/walk ration in 60 innings last season.
Holland is also considerably cheaper than Broxton. If Broxton demonstrates that he is fully recovered from offseason elbow surgery, he would be a bona fide pickup for any team looking for the prototypical, flame-throwing closer to shut down teams in the late innings.
Considering the inability of both Aceves and Melancon to induce swings and misses in their two outings, a strikeout artist could be just what the Red Sox need.
Brandon League, Mariners
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With one of the weaker offenses in the majors and no starting rotation beyond Felix Hernandez, the Mariners are long shots to emerge in a division featuring the powerhouse Rangers and Angels. It’s a bit pointless for them to have money tied up in a closer, which is the situation they have with Brandon League in 2012 ($5 million salary).
League is a hard thrower who has good control (10 walks over 61.1 innings in 2011) and racked up 37 saves for the M’s last season. The Red Sox were one of a number of teams interested in trading for him during the offseason before they opted for Andrew Bailey.
Even though the Mariners signed League to avoid an arbitration hearing, dealing him to another team is still a possibility. And the Red Sox would love to replace one injured former All-Star in Bailey with another one in League.
Grant Balfour, Athletics
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Perhaps the Athletics would be open to another trade for one of their relievers.
Having emerged as a durable, hard-throwing reliever with the Rays, Balfour has proven that he has what it takes to thrive in the pressure cooker American League East. And he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, averaging a strikeout per inning over the past two seasons while recording a WHIP under 1.10 in each season.
That being said, the Aussie is 34 years old and making $4 million this season—a steep price for a team as cost-conscious as Oakland. And even though A’s manager Bob Melvin says that second-year flamethrower Fautino De Los Santos isn’t being considered for the closer gig at the moment, he is clearly the team’s best long-term option.
Bringing Balfour back into the thick of the AL East would be a good move for the Red Sox, particularly if he could still prove that he can shut down the division’s high-powered offenses.
Brad Lidge, Nationals
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Lidge is one of a few Nationals relievers holding down closer duties until Drew Storen recovers from a sore elbow.
When Storen returns, it’s not likely that Lidge will get a bevy of hold opportunities. Tyler Clippard emerged last season as one of the league’s best setup men, and 25-year-old Henry Rodriguez—who reached 101 on the radar gun in Saturday’s win over the Cubs—is sure to make his presence known as well.
At just $1 million, Lidge was a relatively cheap signing for the Nationals and would be a reasonable pickup for any team interested in trading for him. Injuries have sapped the speed from Lidge’s fastball and left him relying on his slider to get hitters out, but he brings experience to any bullpen.
When he hasn’t been injured, Lidge has been solid over the past two seasons. It’s a big “if” for any team looking to deal for him, but a team like Boston that lacks depth in the bullpen would certainly be willing to take a flier on a proven commodity like him.
Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
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At this stage in his career, it’s hard for K-Rod to not be closing ballgames (even though the Brewers dealt for him at the deadline last year to have him as a setup man). The mustachioed John Axford is now firmly entrenched as Milwaukee’s guy at the end of games, leaving Rodriguez without the job that he truly wants.
The Brewers weren’t adamant at all about bringing K-Rod back for 2011. In offering him $8 million in arbitration, Milwaukee was hoping he’d sign elsewhere so they’d net a draft pick, according to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. As it is, Rodriguez is back with the Brew Crew to start the season.
He’s certainly gone through his share of ups and downs over the past few years, but Rodriguez still managed to post a 2.64 ERA and average more than a strikeout per inning in 2011. While the WHIP was a less-than-pretty 1.30, the Red Sox will gladly take that over the implosions they have witnessed on Opening Day and this past Sunday.
Joel Hanrahan, Pirates
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A report from WEEI in November had the Red Sox interested in trading for the 2011 All-Star, who converted 40-of-44 save opportunities one season after fanning 100 batters in less than 70 innings of work. Those rumors never came to pass, and Hanrahan re-upped with Pittsburgh for one year at $4.1 million.
It’s a mystery why Pittsburgh wouldn’t extend a multi-year offer to a dominant reliever with a fastball in the mid- to high-90s and one of the nastier sliders in the game. Perhaps they’re acknowledging that there’s not much point for a team in rebuilding mode to have a closer as one of its cornerstones when they won’t be winning that many games.
Hanrahan is relatively young at 30 years old, and if need be his $4.1 million would not be a lot for the Red Sox to take on. He also has the power stuff that the Red Sox bullpen is sorely lacking. Whether it’s blowing the ball by hitters or making them flail at his slider, he produces swings and misses at a rate far higher than anyone currently on Boston’s staff.
Huston Street, Padres
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Street is owed $7.5 million this season and has a club option for 2013, for which he will be paid $9 million or have his contract bought out for $500,000. Street is a solid choice for now as the Padres closer, but Andrew Cashner and his triple-digit fastball sit waiting in the wings as San Diego’s stopper of the future.
Street isn’t likely to as dominant a closer as he was in 2009 when he saved 35 games and had a sparking 0.91 WHIP over 61.2 innings, but he’d nonetheless be a solid pickup. For his career he’s averaged more than a strikeout per inning, which would come in handy regardless of whether he was closing out games or holding onto leads.
If the first three games of the season are any indication, the Red Sox need help in both of those areas.