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American League

Mediocre Bullpen May Cost Boston in 2019

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Boston's bullpen has a cloud of uncertainty surrounding it entering 2019.

The 2018 Boston Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games and iced the season with the franchise’s ninth World Championship, all in spite of a lousy bullpen. Closer Craig Kimbrel was the team’s only truly reliable option throughout the year and even he struggled badly at points. In 2019 the prognosis looks even worse for the staff. Boston lost two big bullpen assets this winter and hasn’t made any big moves to fill the void.

Kimbrel became a free agent after the season ended and has been reported as seeking a six-year, $100 million+ contract that would be a record for a reliever. The Red Sox and every other MLB team have made it evident that this won’t happen and Kimbrel is still available with Opening Day less than a week away. Fellow gas-thrower Joe Kelly also moved on and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, ironically who Boston defeated in the Fall Classic. Kelly was converted into a reliever in 2015 and it proved to be a good choice, as he was consistent and served as a capable bridge to the late innings

Kelly and Kimbrel’s absences leave a big hole in the Red Sox roster. It’s understandable why Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski wouldn’t want to give such a massive deal to a closer on the wrong side of 30 like Kimbrel, but not resigning the fireballer at all may prove to be a mistake for Boston, especially since Knuckleballer Steven Wright was suspended for PED usage and will miss 80 games. Wright was expected to be a big part of the bullpen since he can both eat innings and get strikeouts. Instead the Sox lost another big name, albeit not permanently.

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Boston has walked away from its former ace closer Craig Kimbrel (AP).

Sophomore Manager Alex Cora announced today what the Red Sox bullpen will look like at least for the start of the 2019 season, and you wouldn’t be wrong if the first thought in your head was “average”. According to Boston’s MLB.com reporter Ian Browne, Cora’s ‘pen to start 2019 will be Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Ryan Brasier, Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Tyler Thornburg and Colten Brewer. While that is by no means the worst group of relief pitchers a team could throw together (pun not intended), it isn’t exactly a stellar one either, due to the massive amount of question marks surrounding it.

The first and biggest problem is that none of those players seem capable of stepping up and taking the closer’s role. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier seem to be the most viable guys if the team wants a set closer. Barnes has been with Boston since 2016 and spent most of that time as one of Kimbrel’s set-up men. He has battled consistency issues, though and has posted an ERA above three in each of the past two seasons, which isn’t exactly a selling point.

Brasier, on the other hand, was a very pleasant surprise for Boston when he was brought up from Triple-A on July 8 and proved to be very consistent. He posted a 1.64 ERA on the year and was given very important innings by season’s end and the playoffs. The only question with Brasier is if he can continue that success into the new season or prove to be a one-season wonder. After spending 2017 in the NPB, Brasier was a low-risk signing that has paid off on Boston’s part to this point. It all hinges on how he follows up.

Tyler Thornburg has shown in the past that he has the tools to be a dominant reliever, but he’s been all but non-existent since coming to Massachusetts. The 30-year-old was Boston’s return in the December 2016 deal that sent Travis Shaw to Milwaukee and Boston is still waiting for that return. Due to thoracic outlet syndrome, Thornburg missed all of 2017 and didn’t make his Red Sox debut until July 6, 2018, 17 months after he was acquired. He pitched to a 5.63 ERA in 24 innings and was not included on the playoff roster. 2019 will be Thornburg’s first full season with the Red Sox and the team is still waiting to see whether or not that December 2016 trade was a steal on the Brewers’ part. If he pitches well, Cora will put him in the big role that he was expected to fill. If he doesn’t, a designation for assignment may come a-calling.

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Longtime Red Sox Brandon Workman has toiled to get back to the majors, but will have to show that he’s worth keeping in 2019.

A member of the 2013 World Championship team, Brandon Workman is one of the longest-tenured Red Sox at this point. The righty’s fast rise was derailed in 2015 when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of the next two seasons. He finally returned in 2017 but has had to fight for a roster spot ever since. Workman has shown that the surgery didn’t slow him and his stuff is still very effective. However, he hasn’t played a full season since 2014 and will have to prove that he is capable of handling the weight after all he’s been through. Cora is giving him the chance, the ball is in Workman’s court.

Similar to Barnes, Heath Hembree’s problem over the past few seasons has been consistency. Hembree excels at strikeouts and handles the middle innings well, but he doesn’t do well in pressure situations, which was why he wasn’t on the postseason roster last year until Steven Wright went down. In 2018 he struck out a career-high 76 batters but posted a 4.10 ERA. Since Wright will miss half of this season, Boston will count on Hembree even more to eat the middle innings. He will have to find a way to give up less runs, even if it means cutting down on his K total.

The problem with Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson is that both are starters converted to the way of the bullpen. Both have been effective in this role over the last two seasons and can eat multiple innings when the rest of the ‘pen is spent, but neither possess dominant, overpowering stuff. You won’t see either come into the game in the eighth with the scored tied and the bases loaded. You can’t hold this against either Velazquez or Johnson, but it’s tough to deny that this bullpen lacks guys like that. Both pitchers are often called on as spot starters and this will continue, especially early this season. Boston opens 2019 on the West Coast with 11 games in as many nights.

All I can say about Colten Brewer is that I know nothing about him other than Boston acquired him from San Diego last November.

All of these guys are talented, but none of them are considered truly dominant. That’s not good enough for a Red Sox team that will compete for the AL East with a New York Yankees squad that spent the whole winter bolstering its relief core. Brian Cashman brought in a couple of big names and it would be very tough to say that the Bomber bullpen isn’t pretty darn stacked. Fellow sophomore Manager Aaron Boone will have Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino at his disposal. That’s a scary quintet especially considering all five of those guys can close. Boston won the East last season and beat its storied rival in the ALDS relatively easily, but the Yankees just might have the edge in 2019. Boston’s bullpen can be called mediocre at best, New York’s can be called an embarrassment of riches.

Will Boston end up resigning Kimbrel after all? It will be very intriguing to see how the team performs in the early going. No matter how well a starter does, every team has to turn to its relievers eventually. That may be a frightening experience for Red Sox Nation in 2019.



American League

2019 Trade Deadline Highlights

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In a shocking, last-minute deal, Zack Greinke has a new home (CBS Sports).

This year’s Trade Deadline in the MLB wasn’t as boisterous as previous seasons and might rank as one of the less-exciting ones in history. There was still a good number of high-profile moves, however, and a few big names went on to new homes. Here’s a look at the more notable acquisitions of July 31, 2019 and how they will impact the teams that got the big returns.

Blue Jays trade RHP Marcus Stroman to Mets in exchange for RHP Anthony Kay, RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson

The move that unofficially kicked off trading season was a bit of a head scratcher. It had long been rumored that Toronto was shopping ace Marcus Stroman, but the team he ended up with isn’t exactly a contender. The Mets are currently four games under .500 and may not be vying for the postseason in 2019. The move is likely another part of the Mets rebuilding process, and since Noah Syndergaard stayed put, New York may have a formidable rotation next season.

Indians acquire LHP Scott Moss, OF Yasiel Puig from Reds and OF Franmil Reyes, LHP Logan Allen and IF Victor Nova from Padres, Padres acquire OF Taylor Trammell from Reds, Indians acquire Reds acquire RHP Trevor Bauer from Indians

The literal biggest trade of the day was a this three-team blockbuster. Trevor Bauer firing the ball over the center field wall on Sunday after he was pulled in the fifth inning ended up being the last pitch he threw in an Indians uniform. A day later the Tribe rid itself of his petulance and pulled off a massive trade with intrastate rival Cincinnati as well as San Diego that saw Bauer go to the Reds and Reds top prospect Taylor Tramell go to the Friars. Cleveland received a host of players from both teams, most namely Yasiel Puig, who is ironically also known as a prima donna.

Though Bauer is undeniably talented when he keeps his act together and bolsters the Reds attempts to trend upward, San Diego may have won the trade with Tramell, MLB’s no. 30 overall prospect.

Rays acquire 1B Jesus Aguilar from Brewers in exchange for RHP Jacob Faria

Milwaukee was certainly brewing before the Deadline and made a commendable effort to improve its pitching. GM David Stearns’ most notable move was a straight swap with the Rays that brought back righty Jacob Faria in exchange for power hitting 1B Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar is having a down year but has proven many times that he can be deadly. He gives the Rays the big bat they’ve been seeking in their hunt for a Wild Card berth.

It’s a good move for both sides because it clears Milwaukee’s infield logjam and gives the team another quality starter. Faria never quite broke out in Tampa Bay but a change of scenery always has potential to pay dividends. After having already gotten Jordan Lyles from Pittsburgh on Monday, the Brewers made another move and got Drew Pomeranz from San Fransisco later on Wednesday. Though none of the returns are big name guys, Milwaukee is serious about making another run after coming so close last year.

Cubs acquire OF Nicholas Castellanos from Tigers in exchange for RHP Alex Lange and RHP Paul Richan.

The Cubs made their chances of taking the NL Central back even better with this move. Nicholas Castellanos has been one of the MLB’s more underrated players in recent years, largely because he was on the Tigers after the team’s glory days of the early 2010s ended. Adding him to a lineup that already includes Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez gives the Cubbies even more firepower, especially given Castellanos success vs. lefty pitchers. It’s also a great move for him personally as he gets to join a contending team at last. The Cubs are vying to appear in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, and their chances look pretty good.

Astros acquire RHP Zack Greinke from Diamondbacks in exchange for RHP Corbin Martin, RHP JB Bukauskas, IF Josh Rojas and IF Seth Beer

If Houston was scary good before this trade, they’re terrifyingly good now. The Astros just added Zack Greinke to a rotation that already includes Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in a last-minute deal that wasn’t announced until after the deadline officially passed. Arizona received a package of four minor leaguers in return as the team is now officially in the rebuilding process.

Like Verlander, Greinke is in the second half of his thirties but has not declined at all and owned a 10-4 record with a 2.90 on a sub-par Diamondbacks team at the time of his departure. The six-time All-Star’s presence gives Houston the best rotation in baseball by far and should get the knees of any upcoming opponent knocking. The MLB said it best on Instagram today, “Facing Houston? You have a problem.”

Notable non-moves:

  • After being heavily rumored as top targets, Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard and Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner are still members of their longtime teams.
  • The Boston Red Sox, whose bullpen has blown 18 saves, made no moves to improve its relief core, to the amazement of the team’s fanbase.
  • The New York Yankees were thought to be Syndergaard’s top suitor, but the team did not acquire any starting pitching to aid Aaron Boone’s struggling rotation.

What was the biggest move of the deadline this year? Be sure to let us know on Twitter @HomeRunDaily.

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American League

Athletics Acquire Tanner Roark

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Tanner Roark

The Oakland Athletics have acquired right hander Tanner Roark from the Cincinnati Reds, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

As part of the deal, outfielder Jamerson Hannah will be heading to Cincinnati, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, the Reds will pick up $2.1 million of Roark’s remaining salary.

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American League

Astros Acquire Martin Maldonado

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Martin Maldonado

The Houston Astros have acquired veteran catcher Martin Maldonado from the Chicago Cubs, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

As part of the deal, outfielder/second baseman Tony Kemp will be heading to the Cubs, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome.

Maldonado has posted a .217/.285/.349 slash line this season.

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