We’re now officially in the dog days of summer, and a familiar weakness has been glaring for the current Red Sox roster: the bullpen. Earlier this morning, the Sox announced the activation of Tyler Thornburg, who has spent close to eternity on the DL since being traded from the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016. Thornburg will surely bring a new presence to the ‘pen, but the problems run a bit deeper than one man can fix.
In order for the Sox to sure up their suspect bullpen, a few key moves need to be made. The race for the pennant is well underway and this team needs reinforcements. Here are the top five ways the Sox can restock the pantry and be ready for the storm come September and October.
5. Move Steven Wright Out of the Rotation
Steven Wright has anchored the starting rotation since his return to the lineup earlier this season. In four games started, he is 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA. Over 40 total innings pitched, he has given up 30 hits, only 15 earned runs while walking 20 batters, and striking out 31. Wright’s knuckleball has been nothing short of brilliant thus far, minus the shelling he received against the Mariners in his last start before landing back on the DL with a bum knee.
The belief is that Wright could return to full health within the next two weeks. But with the starters doing their part to produce quality outings, Wright’s services may be better utilized out of the ‘pen. After all, he was extremely effective as a long-term reliever when he first rejoined the team earlier this season. His ability to provide stability after a shaky start – coupled with his borderline un-hittable knuckle pitch – makes him much more of a valued asset in later innings of the game.
4. Trade for Kyle Barraclough
The Miami Marlins have not had many bright spots in their 2018 campaign. With a current record of 35-52, they are festering in the cellar of the NL East. Miami is a full 15.5 games back from first place. The Marlins are unquestionably out of the playoff picture for this season, so they will be evaluating their current roster for trade pieces. Kyle Barraclough sits at the top of this list like a cherry on top of a melting sundae.
The Marlins don’t have many valuable pieces they can sell for younger, rising talent, but Barraclough is without a doubt catching the eye of many pennant-chasing teams as the trade deadline draws near. This season, the 28-year-old hurler has somewhat quietly put together a dominant showing, amassing a 1.17 ERA in 38 innings pitched. The accolades continue – he has allowed only 14 hits, two home runs, and 19 walks while striking out 42 batters.
The Red Sox have been rumored to be interested in the right-handed pitcher in recent weeks. Barraclough would provide extra insurance to the backend of the bullpen, currently anchored by the likes of Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel. A flashy arm, like the one Barraclough possesses, would elevate this ‘pen to a dominant status.
3. Trade for Rasiel Iglesias
Rasiel Iglesias is in a similar situation as Barraclough; his team is dwelling quite steadily in the cellar of the division and are evaluating their roster for trade pieces. Iglesias is clearly a guy with surefire talent that could command a hefty return on the trade market.
The right-handed closer for the Reds has been the last stop in the Red’s bullpen for the season, notching 16 saves and a 2.63 ERA. In 37 innings pitched, Iglesias has allowed only 26 hits, 6 of which left the ballpark, and 13 bases on balls. But his 42 strikeouts speak for themselves – this guy can really get it done.
Iglesias is yet another arm the Red Sox have been linked with in trade rumors. He seems like he would fit snug like a glove as a setup man for Kimbrel. But if the Sox want to grab this guy, they have to act quickly. Iglesias has been linked with other teams, including the Wahington Nationals and Houston Astros, all hoping to provide reinforcements to their ‘pen before the postseason. Iglesias won’t be available for much longer, so it’s time for the Sox to make their move.
2. Move Drew Pomeranz to the Bullpen
There aren’t many Sox fans who can say they’ve been satisfied with Drew Pomeranz’s performance this year. Frankly, I’m not sure if Red Sox management has a differing opinion. Pomeranz has been a real stinker, a true shell of himself from his former all-star days with the San Diego Padres. His 6.81 ERA leaves much to be desired, and the team seemed forced to give him some time on the DL just to move him out of the starting rotation.
The question now remains, should he even be allowed back into the rotation once he is “healthy” again?
Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez are the pitchers on the roster who are locks for starting slots moving forward. That leaves one final spot to round out the rotation, and you have to believe it is up for grabs. There are at least three pitchers, including Pomeranz, who will be vying for that role. The other two are Wright and Brian Johnson. Both Pomeranz and Wright have had success in a Red Sox uniform in the starting rotation. But this season has them better slatted for relief work. That leaves one man for the job.
1. Promote Brian Johnson to the Starting Rotation
Brian Johnson represents the exact opposite of Wright and Pomeranz; he brings much more value to the starting rotation than to the bullpen. Johnson has provided spot-starts for Boston in recent weeks while Pomeranz and Wright work towards better health. He certainly has made the most of them. Though Alex Cora has been quick to yank him out on his short leash, Johnson has offered the backend of the rotation a bit of stability that the other two pitchers have not. In his past two starts, he has allowed a combined three earned runs in close to nine innings pitched. In four games started this season, he has allowed no more than two earned runs in any outing.
However, his splits out of the bullpen have been less impressive. Though he has still shown to be an effective reliever for Boston, he has been exposed at times. Recall the extra-inning game in Toronto when he was called in and promptly allowed the game-winning two-run blast. Johnson was shelled at Fenway Park just 10 days earlier by the subpar Kansas City Royals. He allowed three hits and an equal number of home runs in only one inning of work.
The numbers don’t lie. Johnson has enjoyed moderate success in a starter’s role and been relatively susceptible in relief work. With Pomeranz and Wright scuffling to find their way in the rotation, the open spot is for Johnson’s taking. In the coming weeks, we will see if Alex Cora and company reward him with that prize.