Successful baseball teams can never have too much good pitching, but in some cases, an effective strategy can be using surplus to address other areas of need. Because the Boston Red Sox appear to have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball this season, they should explore trading relievers to acquire help where they are not so strong.
A major league bullpen is rarely composed of more than seven or eight pitchers. Currently, the Red Sox have Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, Alfredo Aceves, Junichi Tazawa and Clayton Mortensen as qualified candidates.
There are also youngsters like Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa in the minors, along with Daniel Bard, who is trying to regain his status as one of the best setup men in the game.
With so many capable arms, there won’t be enough innings or even roster spots to go around once the regular season begins.
A great way to maximize their relief assets is looking into the possibility of trading one or two pitchers to teams in need.
The Red Sox have other areas needing improvement. In particular, they could use some more bats.
Designated hitter David Ortiz, the team’s best power hitter, has played in just one game since last July 16 because of a partial Achilles tear. Although it’s thought he could return to game action soon, the Red Sox would have a huge hole in their lineup if he missed significant time in 2013.
The team’s bench is also thin when it comes to impact bats, as David Ross, Pedro Ciriaco, Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney and Mike Carp are front-runners for the backup spots. Carp (110) is the only player in that group with a career OPS+ greater than 100, which is seen as a major league-average mark.
Additionally, like all other teams, the Red Sox would be happy to take on prospects if they were to trade away some of their bullpen depth. Doing so would not only continue to stockpile their farm system, but could also give them pieces to use in other trades.
Should Boston decide to capitalize on its excess, there are three primary candidates to be dealt.
Bailey was acquired in a trade from the Oakland A’s to be Boston’s closer prior to last season. However, he missed most of 2012 because of injury, and had just a 7.04 ERA and six saves in the 19 games in which he did appear. Not waiting to see if he rebounded, the team acquired Hanrahan to be their closer this season, leaving Bailey in a setup role.
Bailey had a 2.07 ERA and 75 saves in his three seasons prior to last year’s debacle, so there could be teams needing closer help who could be interested in him as a reclamation project.
The Detroit Tigers started spring training intent on 22-year-old right-handed rookie Bruce Rondon pitching the ninth inning for them this year. However, the Detroit News’ Lynn Hennings wrote they may be rethinking that decision because of the youngster’s early struggles.
With the Tigers built to win now, pursuing an established closer like Bailey could make a lot of sense for them.
Right-hander Alfredo Aceves should also be on the block. Although he struggled filling in as Boston’s closer last year, going 2-10 with a 5.36 ERA and 25 saves, he was a combined 16-3 with a 2.93 ERA in his previous four major league seasons.
Aceves has earned headlines for clashing with team officials, but his ability to pitch in any role should be attractive to another team.
The 27-year-old southpaw Franklin Morales is similar to Aceves, except without the controversy. He’s been just as effective starting during his career (4.34 ERA) as he has been when relieving (4.38 ERA).
With Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, John Lackey and Felix Doubront set for rotation spots, and De La Rosa and Webster waiting in the wings, there’s no longer room for Morales to start in Boston. The presence of lefties Miller and Breslow makes him redundant in the bullpen.
Any number of teams would love to have pitchers like Aceves or Morales because of the rare versatility they offer.
To be clear, the Red Sox don’t have to make a trade. Bard, Aceves and Tazawa all have minor league options remaining. But it would a great waste to have talented major league-caliber pitchers sitting in the minors all year if they could be flipped for something of use.
Statistics via BaseballReference