By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox may ultimately need help in the starting rotation if they want to put the team in a better position to contend for the playoffs. But once Carson Smith went down for the season due to Tommy John surgery, the bullpen will also need another arm to keep everyone else fresh for the regular season and beyond.
Acquired in a trade along with lefty Roenis Elias for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro in the offseason, Smith was supposed to be a major piece of the Red Sox relief corps in 2016. He was a much-needed power arm to blow away hitters in the late innings and keep the Red Sox competitive with some of the elite bullpens in the American League.
With Smith officially sidelined for at least the next calendar year, the Red Sox will need to find an established reliever to fill the void left by Smith. 41-year-old Koji Uehara can’t be expected to carry the eighth inning load all by himself for the entire season, at least not effectively, and his innings (along with everyone else’s) need to be conserved, especially in light of the taxing the bullpen has already received to start the season.
The Red Sox don’t necessarily need a pitcher with closing experience, but some of those could be available at relatively affordable prices. They don’t need to make a major move – a 6th or 7th inning setup man should not cost much – but if necessary, they have plenty of players in the system to deal, and it shouldn’t even take one of their top prospects.
Here are some veteran relievers who have AL or playoff experience (or both) to their credit, and would be relatively inexpensive and potentially effective options to bolster the Red Sox bullpen as they march toward the battle for a playoff spot.
Fernando Salas, Los Angeles Angels: Of all veteran relievers who would make sense for the Red Sox, the 30-year-old Salas would likely carry the cheapest price tag – because he hasn’t regularly closed games since 2011. But Salas does have 20.1 career postseason innings, mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals. Salas throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and has averaged over a strikeout per inning over the course of his career.
Fernando Rodney, San Diego Padres: Here’s another Fernando, one who should be more familiar to you. Rodney has not been the most consistent guy over the course of his career, but he does still throw in the mid-90s and this year looks like the good Rodney – he has yet to allow an earned run in 18 innings as the San Diego Padres closer in 2016. His fielding-independent ERA is at 2.70, which means he’s not entirely a product of his comfortable surroundings in San Deigo’s pitchers park.
Rodney’s postseason career has been spotty, but the experience is there – as well as experience pitching in the AL East.
Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics: Madson may be pricing himself out for the Red Sox as he continues to excel in the closer’s role for the Oakland Athletics. At 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 43.1 career postseason innings, he may be a highly-sought after trade chip at the deadline. Madson’s fastball-changeup combo would be a welcome addition to the Red Sox bullpen, but other teams may be in the market for his services to use him in the ninth.
Tyler Clippard, Arizona Diamondbacks: The D’Backs setup man spent much of 2015 with the Oakland Athletics and compiled a 2.79 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. The A’s traded him to the Mets at the 2015 trade deadline, so he’s used to that sort of thing. Clippard doesn’t throw very hard, but keeps hitters off-balance by mixing up his pitches and changing speeds, a similar approach to Tazawa.
Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves: The 39-year-old Grilli could be moved from the lowly Atlanta Braves to a contending team at the deadline and could serve as a closer for a team in need of one. But the Red Sox would be well served in acquiring Grilli for what would not be a high price. Grilli has a 5.87 ERA this season, but has struck out 20 batters in 15.1 innings and has never allowed a run in 8.1 career postseason innings. (UPDATE: The Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Grillin in a trade.)
Who would you like to see the Red Sox add to the bullpen? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.