By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There isn’t much that can slow the Red Sox down at the moment. They remain the best team in baseball and can essentially lock up the AL East this weekend when the Yankees come to town for a four-game series. Owners of a 5.5 game lead over their rivals, the Red Sox can pretty much seal up the division by taking three of four from New York.
But despite the fact they’re on pace to win over 110 games this season, all that matters is how the team plays in October. And as they’re currently built, the Red Sox could have one fatal flaw when the postseason rolls around — their bullpen.
That will no doubt be Dave Dombrowski’s focus ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. The Sox’ president of baseball ops had already pulled off a pair of under-the-radar deals that have paid off in outfielder Steve Pearce and right-handed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, but he shouldn’t rest on his laurels and let the deadline come and go without giving his bullpen another reliable arm.
Dombrowski won’t be dealing from a position of strength, with Boston’s minor league system a bit dry thanks to previous trades for Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale, so chances are he won’t be winning any bidding wars come Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to acquire some bullpen help — or any other area of need he sees fit.
Here are a few areas the first-place Red Sox should look to address at this year’s trade deadline.
Setup Man For Present/Closer For Future
The Red Sox’ biggest need at the moment is in the eighth inning. Matt Barnes is their current setup man, and while he can put together some impressive stretches, does anyone truly trust him to bridge the gap to Kimbrel once October rolls around? Their setup group has been one of Boston’s only weaknesses this season, and it has gotten worse with Joe Kelly’s immense struggles over the last two months (he owns a 9.37 ERA since June 1 heading into Monday night’s game against the Phillies).
But with Kimbrel set to receive a boatload of cash this offseason, Boston may also need a closer of the future. It’d be wonderful if Kimbrel can continue his Hall of Fame career in a Red Sox uniform, but a team desperate for a closer may beat them in a bidding war this offseason. So it would be in Dombrowski’s best interest to snag a young reliever with term on his deal as a little added insurance for both this season and next.
Cincinnati closer Rasiel Iglesias and Texas closer Keone Kela are the most enticing options on that front. Iglesias is a 28-year-old righty whose contract runs through 2020. He has 21 saves and a 2.11 ERA for the Reds this season, holding opposing batters to a .192 average. The 25-year-old Kela, whom the Red Sox reportedly scouted over the weekend, has 23 saves in 24 opportunities this season to go with his 3.28 ERA, and is arbitration eligible for three more years.
UPDATE: Kela was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates early Tuesday morning.
In a perfect world, Dombrowski would snag someone who could help solidify the Boston bullpen this year and take over as closer next year should Kimbrel skip town. Unfortunately for dealin’ Dave, those kinds of arms are quite expensive come deadline time.
An 8th Inning Guy
If Dombrowski just wants to land a setup man for the now, there are plenty of potential targets who may not cost him an arm and a leg (which he doesn’t really have too many of to trade away in the minors).
The Red Sox, are reportedly keeping tabs on anyone and everyone who may move on Tuesday.
Here’s a quick rundown:
A 16-year MLB veteran, Rodney has 322 career saves under his belt. The 41-year-old can be wild at times, but owns a 2-2 record and 3.49 ERA for the Twins this season, striking out 43 over his 38.2 innings of work. Rodney has 22 saves in 28 opportunities this season, one year after locking down 39 games for the Diamondbacks just last season.
The 33-year-old righty is one of the few players left standing in a recent shakeup of the Cardinals bullpen, serving as the St. Louis closer. He has 20 saves in 23 opportunities this season, striking out 55 in 43 innings.
Boston is reportedly on the list of potential landing spots for the righty, who is 1-5 with 10 saves and a 3.98 ERA in 53 appearances for the Marlins this season. Ziegler was a mid-season pickup by the Sox in 2016 and had a 1.52 ERA in 33 appearances.
A Pair Of Padres
The Red Sox may have missed out on Padres closer Brad Hand, who was traded to Cleveland two weeks ago, but San Diego’s Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen are also potential candidates to move. They both have some term after this season too, as Yates has two more arbitration years after 2018 and Stammen is signed through 2019. Yates is having his best season at the age of 31 with a 1.60 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 41 appearances, while Stammen is boasting a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in his 46 games.
The Other Reds
Right-handers David Hernandez and Jared Hughes have been linked to the Red Sox, and both are having spectacular seasons out of the Reds bullpen. Hernandez, 33, has a crisp 1.79 ERA and 0.992 WHIP in his 34 appearances. Hughes, also 33, has seven saves in nine opportunities to go with his 1.46 ERA and 1.102 WHIP.
Both have one year remaining on their contracts.
What’s nice about Holland is he’s a free agent so he wouldn’t cost anything in return. What’s not nice about Holland is he was released by the Cardinals after failing as their closer, sporting a 7.92 ERA in his 25 innings pitched this season. He saved 41 games and was an All-Star for the Rockies last season, but this year’s lack of success will probably scare contenders off.
Insurance On The Infield
It doesn’t look like Dustin Pedroia is coming back anytime soon, and Rafael Devers can’t seem to stay off the disabled list. That may cause Dombrowski to go fishing for some inexpensive insurance options on the infield.
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier is having a down year at the plate, hitting a career-low .224, but will be a free agent after the season and shouldn’t cost anyone too much on the trade market. He also has 16 homers on the year, so he could bring a little more pop to end of the Boston lineup.
There is one extremely intriguing option at third base: Adrian Beltre. Boston fans fell in love with his one-legged swing and amazing glove back in 2010 (not to mention his borderline psychotic reaction whenever anyone rubbed his head), and he’d be welcomed back as a veteran presence at third to spell Devers whenever he’s struggling. Beltre himself isn’t having a great season, with just one homer and 13 doubles in 73 games, but he’d likely be a better option at the hot corner than Blake Swihart (who filled in admirably Sunday, but shouldn’t be relied on as an everyday option).
There were rumors late Monday night that the Sox and Rangers were chatting about a Beltre swap, but those were quickly doused with cold water.
After making three moves over the last month, Dombrowski hinted Monday night that the team may be done dealing, but said a lot can happen leading up to the deadline.