Despite all of the injuries to their regular positional players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, etc.), the bullpen was and still remains a focal point for this offseason for a number of reasons.
Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard were the only two members of the bullpen who had ERAs less than four, and had it not been for the seasons of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, it should be viewed by many experts and fans that the rest of the Red Sox pitching staff all had issues throughout the season despite its 4.20 ERA, which was ninth best in the American League last year.
Additionally, the Red Sox bullpen had 22 blown saves last year, which was the fourth worst in the major leagues last year. Why did the Sox have a jump in blown saves last year? The Red Sox were second worst in batters faced in the American League last year only to the Kansas City Royals, as they faced a whopping 38.68 batters per game.
Fortunately, there are some very good options in free agency that can aid in shoring up their second set-up option and their middle relief corp.
Here is a look at some of the leading options that the Red Sox may approach as candidates during the offseason:
Jon Rauch (Age 32)
Rauch entered last year as the primary setup man for the Minnesota Twins before Joe Nathan went to the DL due to a torn elbow ligament. Once Rauch settled in as the closer, he did pretty well prior to the Twins trading for Matt Capps from the Washington Nationals. Rauch led the Twins with 21 saves against four blown saves and had a .268 BAA. Rauch earned $2.9 million last year and is comparable money to JJ Putz. In terms of value, Rauch is one of few closers in the free-agent market that will not cost a first-round draft pick as well.
Jesse Crain (29)
Before Joe Nathan, Jon Rauch and Matt Capps went to the Twin Cities, it was widely regarded that Crain was the Twins' closer of the future. Entering last year, Crain had a number of disappointing campaigns (2007, 2009) but really turned it on with the Twins deploying a heavy dose of their bullpen.
Crain was second on the team among his bullpen mates with a stalwart 1.176 WHIP and his seven hits per nine innings led the team. He earned $2 million last year and could provide good value to the Red Sox.
Matt Guerrier (32)
Guerrier was no slouch last year as well for the Twins bullpen. Over the last two years, Guerrier has held opponents to batting averages of .207 and .219 and WHIP of .97 and 1.10 respectively. More of a control and finesse pitcher than Crain, Guerrier has been a workhorse as he has totaled 70 innings or more for the last four seasons. Guerrier earned $3.15 million last year.
JJ Putz (33)
After enduring two injury-plagued campaigns in 2008 and 2009, Putz was a mainstay in the White Sox bullpen last year. He went 54 innings and held opponents to a .204 BA while striking out 65 batters. Putz earned $3 million last year and with Sergio Santos and Matt Thornton on the rise, Putz may not be returning to the South Side.
Grant Balfour (34)
While all eyes will be on closer Rafael Soriano this offseason and if he re-signs with Tampa Bay, along with his other teammates (Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena), Balfour is a target worth keeping an eye on. Balfour earned $2.05 million last year as he held opponents to a .206 batting average and held a 1.08 WHIP en route to a 2.28 ERA.
If the Red Sox can get any of their left-handed assets out of the bullpen to improve on their 2010 campaigns, these are some of the American League middle relievers that are within Boston's budget and can replace what Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez were suppose to bring to the table over the last couple of years.