5 relief pitchers Red Sox could potentially target

Amin Touri
June 11, 2019 - 2:47 pm

With Matt Barnes blowing another save in the Red Sox’ 4-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the bullpen is in the spotlight again.

With the departures of Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel from a group that was shaky to begin with, the relievers have struggled in 2019, combining to blow 10 saves already through 67 games. Barnes, one of the only somewhat reliable relievers this season, has had to go from a seventh-inning role behind Kelly and Kimbrel to taking the ball for the ninth most nights, and everyone else has had to take on more responsibility as a result, and the results have been frustrating.

The frustration can be summed up through Chris Sale’s season, as the lanky lefty has been very solid, but sits with a 2-7 record with five no-decisions.

Among those no-decisions are last night’s against Texas where Sale went seven innings and gave up just three hits and one unearned run while striking out 10, another in May where he went seven innings against Colorado and gave up three hits and two runs while striking out 17, and just a week before that when he threw eight innings in Baltimore and gave up three hits and one earned run, striking out 14 and still coming up empty.

It’s pretty clear that Dave Dombrowski’s going to need to make additions to the bullpen over the next weeks, and with this year’s deadline looking like a buyer’s market, there should be plenty of options the Red Sox could target.

Here are five names to keep an eye on.

Sean Doolittle, LHP, Nationals

Alex Cora really, really needs a workable lefty out of the pen. The Red Sox have rolled with almost all right-handers this season, save for the occasional call-up of Josh Smith or Bobby Poyner, and it’s a matchup nightmare.

Doolittle is one of the best relievers in baseball at his best, but his availability really depends on where the Nationals are in six weeks’ time. Washington currently sits fourth in the NL East, six games back from joint-leaders Atlanta and Philadelphia, and if the Nats continue to slide, they could be inclined to sell.

The left-hander hasn’t been quite so dominant this season, with a 3.58 ERA in 29 appearances, but has a very solid track record over the last few years. His strikeout numbers have remained very high, though he’s struggled with his command at times this season and has probably had his fair share of bad luck on balls in play.

An All-Star last season, Doolittle would be an immediate improvement over anyone in the Red Sox bullpen, and would bring some much-needed variety.

Felipe Vazquez, LHP, Pirates

Sticking with the lefties, Vazquez earned his first All-Star nod last season, and has been similarly excellent in 2019.

A fireballer who frequently touches triple-digits with his fastball, Vazquez also brings a very good slider and a couple other workable secondary offerings to the table. With a 2.30 ERA and a K/9 rate just north of 14, the Venezuelan hurler is having his third straight great season in Pittsburgh, and with the Pirates fourth in the NL Central, he could be one of the most coveted relievers on the market.

Vazquez’s contract — signed through 2021, or two more seasons after this one — may drive up his price as he wouldn’t be just a short-term rental, and if there’s a bidding war for his services, the Red Sox might not yet have a farm to sell for him anyways. But if the price is reasonable, he’d be a perfect option.

Ken Giles, RHP, Blue Jays

The Giles experience is a little bit like the Craig Kimbrel experience; at his best, Giles is an unhittable flamethrower. At his worst, he’s a walking heart attack.

Inconsistency is Giles’ biggest concern, as he untouchable in his first two years with the Phillies in 2014 and 2015, he struggled in Houston in 2016, returned to form in 2017, completely fell apart in the 2017 playoffs to the point where manager AJ Hinch just refused to use him, had a difficult 2018, and has been one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019.

On the one hand, his 15.12 K/9 rate is fifth in the majors among qualified relievers this season, his 1.08 ERA is sixth, while his fastball velocity is back to sitting between 98-99 mph and his slider is getting swings and misses again. On the other hand, he’s been prone to a meltdown in the past, and will have fans sweating every time he touches the ball.

Giles is a free agent after this season, so he could come with a smaller price tag and far less risk if it doesn’t pan out, and it’s up to Dombrowski to weigh the pros and cons.

Shane Greene, RHP, Tigers

One of the lone bright spots on a very good Detroit team, Greene is least-established pitcher on this list, having by far the best season of his career at the age of 30. With a career ERA of 4.62, he’s been a middling reliever for years, never great but never terrible.

In 2019, the big right-hander is one of the better relievers around, with a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings so far this season. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Greene also represents one of the cheaper options available as a short-term rental.

The question is whether or not Greene is for real — he doesn’t strike out many batters compared to other top-tier bullpen arms, his low 90s velocity doesn’t blow anyone away and he doesn’t have a great secondary offering to use as a strikeout pitch. He’s a soft-contact guy, a pitcher that relies on his sinker to get groundballs for outs when he needs them. That can be effective, but it’s a risk, because of the balls start getting through, there’s not much of a backup plan.

Kirby Yates, RHP, Padres

Possibly the most coveted reliever available as the best, most consistent guy in the league that’s on a bad team, San Diego will have plenty of suitors for Yates this summer.

The numbers are excellent — a 0.96 ERA, a league-leading 23 saves, a 15.43 K/9 rate in 28 innings, holding opponents to just a .167 batting average and a .464 OPS. Yates was very good last season but has gone to a different level in 2019, becoming one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

The veteran right-hander isn’t a big flamethrower either, but can touch 95 mph with his fastball to go along with a nasty splitter, his out pitch that can get both swings-and-misses along with weak groundballs. Yates is a bit in the Koji Uehara mold, not wildly overpowering but with such an effective splitter that it works.

Yates’ asking price is perhaps the biggest question mark of any reliever; on production alone he’s perhaps the most valuable, but with an expiring contract he won’t command as high a price. The Padres should make him available at the deadline, and he could bolster a team’s bullpen in a serious way.

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