How Dave Dombrowski views Red Sox bullpen blueprint

Rob Bradford
March 13, 2019 - 11:19 am

Make no mistake about it, Dave Dombrowski is gambling. And as we sit here the cards aren't exactly trending in the right direction.

The Red Sox' president of baseball operations has constructed arguably the most talented roster in the game, offering a fair level of certainty at almost every spot. Almost. It's the bullpen which is becoming Dombrowski's pretty much one and only leap of faith. 

This reality isn't a surprise. As the offseason unfolded, with Dombrowski's winter meetings proclamations serving as a jumping off point, it became clear the likelihood of a Craig Kimbrel reunion was very slim. And then there was the less-than-extravagant offer to Kelly. And finally came word of how hesitant the Red Sox were to come close on free agent relief candidates.

They had Matt Barnes. They had Ryan Brasier. They had Steven Wright. And they had Tyler Thornburg. Along with Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, Brandon Workman and a slew of potential it was perceived by Dombrowski as enough.

"I would have to say it was a combination of factors," Dombrowski recently told when asked about how he arrived at his bullpen blueprint heading into this season. "We just kind of looked at different alternatives and thought we would be willing to go to some places on some individuals but we also felt comfortable with the guys we had internally. We had other priorities, which was signing (Nathan) Eovaldi. At that point as far as pitching was concerned it was the priority. We just felt internal we would have enough guys."

With almost exactly two weeks until Opening Day, Barnes has pitched twice in Grapefruit League action while Brasier threw his first live batting practice Wednesday thanks to an infected toe. Thornburg has been unimpressive mid-90's velocity and Wright wasn't going to be ready for the opener even if his 80-game suspension didn't come along.

Workman's velocity and effectiveness have taken a turn for the worse over the last week or so, and thanks to the birth of his daughter Hembree hasn't pitched in game action yet.

Right now this sure feels a lot like when the Red Sox tried to replace their ace (Jon Lester) in 2015 with the potential of five aces (Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson), or the strategy of hoping everybody in the lineup got a little better in lieu of no David Ortiz in 2017. Projecting can be a dangerous thing, as the Sox found out in both those cases.

But Dombrowski dug in throughout the offseason, as was evident by not losing sleep over the signings of the likes of David Robertson, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, and Kelly.

"I was not surprised by it really," he said regarding the relief pitching market. "There is always a deal or two that surprises you. There are some instances where somebody signs at a really good price and then somebody spends more than they should. But that’s what makes the free agency market go round. We just felt as far the investments were concerned with what we were willing to do we felt more comfortable signing Eovaldi and using guys we had."

While Dombrowski has ruled out any more reliever signings, there is always the possibility a trade is swung. And with the Sox dangling one of their three catchers such a one-for-one swap could make some sense. The problem is the same as it has been throughout the offseason -- the slow free agent market has made trades appreciably more difficult.

The good news is that one of the last free agent catchers, Martin Maldonado, has finally come off the board thanks to his one-year deal with the Royals, opening the door for some increased interest from those who might need backstop help. The bad news is that the Red Sox aren't the only ones trying to deal a catcher, with one example being Washington actively shopping defensive ace Pedro Severino.

And then there is not allocating too much money because of luxury tax concerns and impending contract stickiness with the likes of Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts and Porcello.

"Right now there are just a lot of things internally, externally, looking at a lot of different things and juggling on a consistent basis," Dombrowski said. "It does come into play, the future, based upon the guys we have internally and what we’re looking to do. But I also can’t tell you the right opportunities maybe you don’t react to."

So how could this original plan actually work?

There is still some time to have the brunt of the Red Sox' bullpen hit the ground running when March 28 comes around. There are some interesting arms in camp that could contribute, such as the ones belonging to Colten Brewer, Bobby Poyner, Darwinzon Hernandez, Zach Putnam and Marcus Walden. And, of course, another wave of options promise to be around the corner a few months now.

Brad Ziegler. Addison Reed. Eovaldi.

You can get valuable bullpen pieces heading into the non-waiver trade deadline. That is one thing that hasn't changed in this new age of baseball business.

"When you look at the sheer number of relievers most clubs have, usually it’s an area that can be addressed," Dombrowski noted. "I can’t answer specifically because you don’t know what will be taking place and who will be in contention, but normally it’s an area you can address. Between middle and back-end you’re talking three or four guys per club and then you have 29 other clubs then you say half of them is not in contention, just overall that’s an area you can do something with."

The Red Sox clearly had a plan. It is coming up on time to see if it was a good one or not.