Dave Dombrowski's refusal to improve Red Sox' woeful bullpen is downright insulting

Alex Reimer
July 01, 2019 - 11:11 am

The most expensive team in baseball is limping towards the All-Star Break and would miss the playoffs if the season ended today. The blame for this debacle rests largely with Dave Dombrowski, who’s refused to address the Red Sox’ biggest need out of apparent ignorance or apathy. It’s difficult to figure out which explanation would be worse.

The 44-40 Sox sit 12 games behind the superior Yankees in the loss column and 2.5 games out of the playoffs. They’re riding a three-game losing streak, which includes two hideously blown leads in two continents. The last five days serve as a microcosm of their futile championship defense.

On Wednesday, just four days removed from squandering a six-run advantage to the lowly Blue Jays, the overworked Matt Barnes –– who seems more exhausted than a sleep deprived presidential candidate in the middle of a mid-summer swing through Iowa –– surrendered a game-winning home run to White Sox slugger Jose Abreu in the ninth inning. It was Boston’s eighth loss when leading after seven, and fourth loss when leading after eight. Barnes posted a hideous 9.69 ERA in June, closing out the month with a wretched three-run appearance against the Yankees Sunday, in which he only retired one batter.

It was foolish to believe Barnes could serve as the team’s relief ace with little help. Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly left, and Dombrowski didn’t replace their 136 appearances. Adam Ottavino, who inked a three-year deal with the Yankees, would look pretty good here. Instead, the Red Sox failed to address their depleted pen, outside of acquiring little-known righty Colten Brewer.

The implosion of the Red Sox’ bullpen isn’t surprising. That’s what happens when you rely on a 30-year-old rookie like Marcus Walden to get big outs. It was inevitable his attempt to protect a two-run lead in the seventh against the top of the Yankees’ lineup –– AL battling leader DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez –– was going to end in disaster. All four batters reached base to ignite a nine-run rally, and Walden got charged with four runs. His ERA in June was 6.75.

Outside of Brandon Workman, who walks six batters per nine innings, the Red Sox don’t have a single late-inning reliever whom Alex Cora can summon with confidence. That falls on Dombrowski, who should’ve seen this mix wasn’t going to be good enough. He seemingly got complacent, and forgot to fill out his bullpen, which is what burned him in Detroit.

Principal owner John Henry told WEEI’s Rob Bradford in London he’s wary of adding more payroll at the trade deadline later this month. "It’s not a luxury tax issue, it’s a question of how much money do we want to lose," Henry said. "We’re already over budget and we were substantially over our budget last year and this year. We’re not going to be looking to add a lot of payroll. And it’s hard to imagine fielding a better team. If we play up to our capabilities we’ll be fine. That’s the question: Will we? We’re halfway through and we haven’t.”

While it’s disingenuous for Henry to proclaim the Red Sox are losing money –– the team’s operational budget doesn’t include NESN revenue and other cash generators –– lack of resources isn’t the problem. Dombrowski has been given at least $232 million to spend on payroll this season. It’s his fault he misallocated resources and decided to extend Nathan Eovaldi for $67.5 million rather than address the bullpen.

Even so, it wouldn’t cost much to bring aboard Mychal Givens, Sergio Romo and some of the other stabilizing veteran arms who are available this time of year. It’s unfathomable to believe the Red Sox are financially prohibited from adding this season’s version of Brad Ziegler or Addison Reed.

But they are running out of time. The Red Sox don’t look like they’ll be able to survive the week with this group at the back end.

Sure, there are other issues: Chris Sale hasn’t won at Fenway in nearly one calendar year; Mookie Betts is hitting .260; the club’s defense and awareness remains subpar. But the situation would be different with a capable bullpen. They would be in control of a wild card spot, and likely still within shouting distance of the Yankees and Rays. 

That’s not the case right now, however. The Red Sox are 16-23 against the top seven clubs in the AL. They are not good enough, and their biggest weakness was glaring before Gerry Callahan showed up in Fort Myers to watch pitchers’ fielding practice.

Dombrowski was brought here to win a World Series. He built a champion last year, and then decided to basically standpat. It’s insulting to the fans who pay the most expensive ticket prices in baseball to help supplement this juggernaut, which calls upon Marcus Walden to retire Aaron Judge in high-leverage spots. 

The Red Sox were an international embarrassment this weekend. In a fitting tribute to the London series, they were unprepared to go into battle against the Yankees. We all know how that ends.