Which relievers will the Boston Red Sox be interested in acquiring?
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (June 17, 2018 – Source: Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)
According to NBC Sports’ Evan Drellich, the Boston Red Sox are in the market for a bullpen arm and a right-handed hitter to help the team off the bench. Our own Dave Latham did an excellent job laying out certain right-handed bats Boston could be interested as the trade deadline approaches earlier in the week. Since he has tackled that, I will be looking at potential bullpen candidates the Red Sox may have interest in.
The Red Sox’ bullpen has not been as bad as suggested, placing fourth in bullpen fWAR and sixth in ERA among all MLB teams. It is decently deep group as well, with Bobby Poyner, Marcus Walden and Ty Buttrey all projecting to be serviceable bullpen arms if they were to get the call from Triple-A. This does not even account for Tyler Thornburg, who, if he ever is healthy and ready to pitch in the bigs, could have a tremendous impact on the reliving corps. Admittedly, though, the team lacks one of those “shutdown” late-innings guys and it has plagued them this year. Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly have been dicey in crucial situations, while Heath Hembree actually finds himself in semi-big spots fairly frequently. Consequently, Boston could stand to upgrade in the bullpen.
Recent reports suggest the Red Sox may be interested in inquiring on Padres closer Brad Hand. Hand has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last couple of years, but the asking price may be incredibly too steep. Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi is hearing the Padres would want a young everyday player in return for Hand, which would likely have to be Rafael Devers. The Sox will not trade five and half controllable years of Devers for Hand, so if San Diego requires a package this big for their relief ace, they will have to look to other options.
Boston is handicapped by a weak farm system, with only two top-100 prospects coming into 2018. Both of those prospects (Michael Chavis and Jay Groome) have been hindered by a PED-suspension and Tommy John Surgery, respectively, so their trade value has taken quite a hit. Perhaps bonafide closers like Hand or Raisel Iglesias are too expensive for the Red Sox. With that said, the Washington Nationals did just acquire free-agent-to-be Kelvin Herrera without giving up a top prospect. He is, however, in a contract year so he does not have the value of the other guys mentioned.
It seems more likely the BoSox will be looking at less heralded arms to improve their bullpen. While this exercise is purely speculative and founded in nothing but my own wild imagination, here are five relievers the Red Sox could realistically attain.
1.) Kyle Barraclough (Marlins, age 28, RHP)
The Miami Marlins closer has proven for three consecutive years that he can be a valuable reliever. This season he has been the recipient of a copious amount of luck driving his incredibly low ERA (1.11). His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an astonishing .100 and he has left 90.9% of runners on base. These numbers should regress to the mean and when they do the right-hander’s value will crater.
Still, even if he starts to creep closer towards his 3.47 FIP, he should be a quality arm for Boston. He’s a high-strikeout guy but offsets that (at times) with shaky command, as he possesses a 4.45 BB/9 this season. His fastball averages 94 mph in 2018, although he has lost a whole mph off it in each of the last two years. Meanwhile, he complements the heater with two decent secondary offerings in the slider and changeup. Both of those pitches have the ability to generate whiffs and weak contact.
He has a nice array of weapons but Boston should be realistic with their expectations with him. His command problem has plagued him and there is nothing that indicates it will ever go away. Barraclough would be a fine addition to the bullpen, coming with three and a half years of control, but the Red Sox need to be wary and not overpay for a deceiving 1.11 ERA.
2.) Ryan Tepera (Blue Jays, age 30, RHP)
Tepera is drawing trade interest from around the league and the Boston Red Sox should be in on the bidding. Since Roberto Osuna has been suspended for 75 games for violating the league’s domestic violence policy, he is stepping into the closer’s role for the Jays. The past two years out of the bullpen have been very impressive for Tepera, striking batters out at an above-average rate and limiting free passes.
On the year, the right-hander has pitched to the tune of a 2.70 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 36 and 2/3 innings. He has actually gained velocity on his pitches this season, averaging between 95-96 on his four and two-seam fastballs. In fact, Tepera has three variations of the hard stuff, featuring the aforementioned four and two-seamers in addition to a cutter. The cutter is probably his bread-and-butter pitch, with hitters only mustering a .192 career batting average off it. Plus, he throws it the most of any of his offerings. Further, he throws a slider, which is also a pretty good pitch, and a changeup that is rarely used.
Like Barraclough, he comes with three and a half years of control, making him more than just a rental. Unlike Barraclough, though, he seems to actually be getting better as the years go by, despite being 30 years of age. He would not command a Hand-return but the Jays would probably need more than what the Royals got for a little over half of season of Herrera. Boston has the resources to make this trade a reality, but there is no guarantee the Jays will actually sell him. The team is in a weird spot where they clearly are not going to contend this year, however, with so much young talent in the upper minors, they could be a threat as soon as 2019. As a result, they may keep Tepera to make a run at it when the calendar flips into ’19.
3.) Keone Kela (Rangers, age 25, RHP)
The Texas Rangers are in evident rebuilding mode and Kela appears to be one of their more valuable trade chips. He has been perfect in save opportunities this season (17/17) and has youth on his side. He punches out a lot of batters with a career 11.01 K/9, which has fallen a bit to 10.59 in 2018. While his strikeouts have taken a small hit, he has been able to negate this with improved command, lowering his BB/9 to 3.49 from 3.96 last season.
In total, he has recorded a 3.76 ERA this year, which does do him justice. The pairing 2.87 FIP may be more reflective of his abilities, even with an unsustainably-low homerun rate. He gives up a lot of fly balls to hitters and is not a groundball generator. Kela throws extremely hard, averaging 97 mph on his heater. Like a true reliever, he has a two-pitch mix, complementing the heater with an oft-used curveball that generates a high number of swing-and-misses.
While he is good enough to pitch against both handed hitters, he is clearly better against righties than lefties. For his career, lefties have slugged .389 off him, compared to a lowly .294 that righties have produced against Kela. He has two years left in arbitration after this year has completed and, with his perfect save record, could net some decent money in year two. He is not only considerably younger than the guys above him but he is probably the best of the bunch, too. I would envision he would pull in slightly more than Tepera, but the hauls would be similar.
4.) Joe Jimenez (Tigers, age 23, RHP)
There is absolutely no guarantee that Detroit will trade Jimenez given how young and talented he is. If they do, though, they could get a serious return for the rookie’s services in an era where bullpen arms are valued more so than ever. The youngster is quietly putting together one of the best seasons by an MLB reliever in baseball as Detroit’s setup man.
Through 35 and 1/3 innings of work, Jimenez has compiled a nasty 2.04 ERA and 1.97 FIP, which has been worth 1.3 fWAR. For comparison, Craig Kimbrel has been worth 0.7 fWAR this year.
Anyway, he uses his four-seam fastball over 60 percent of the time and, for a heater, it gets an enormous amount of whiffs. It averages about 95 mph. His secondary offerings include a slider, which is an above-average offering with even more potential, and a decent changeup. He yields a ton of fly balls, like Kela, and has a knack for accruing infield fly balls, which are almost assuredly outs. Moreover, he strikes a lot of batters out and has impeccable command, rarely walking anybody. In fact, despite his age, he has the best command, by far, of any of these pitchers listed.
Trading for Jimenez is not even a bet on potential at this point. The kid has established himself this year as one of the best relievers in baseball. Considering the Sox would be dealing for five and a half years of his services, he would probably cost them more than any of the other guys. This one is a bit of a pipe dream and it is unclear if he would be available. Detroit is likely entering a long, tiring rebuilding process, however, and even five years down the line when Jimenez is in his contract year, they may not be competitive. It is hard to predict the future but it seems a Jimenez trade seems inevitable for Detroit, whether it is now or five years from now. They might as well maximize the return while they can.
5.) Kirby Yates (Padres, age 31, RHP)
If you cannot get Hand without sacrificing one of your own hands, why not go for his setup man who has been better than him in ’18? Yates is enjoying his best season at the big-league level, following a season in which was previously his best season at the big-league level. The right-handed pitcher was a strikeout machine in ’17 and did not allow an inordinate amount of walks. The reason his ERA (3.97) was as high as it was is because his HR/9 was an insane 1.91. That number was bound to be unsustainable and it has dropped precipitously this year.
Ironically, it has fallen so much (0.30 HR/9) this season that is now a bit unsustainable in the other direction. More balls should be leaving the yard soon. He also has a pretty low .243 BABIP and 94.4 LOB% (left on base percentage) that are partially responsible for the otherworldly 0.90 ERA he has accumulated in 30 innings this year. Even if we can expect some regression to the mean for Yates, his underlying 2.33 FIP and 2.73 xFIP still render him one of the premier bullpen arms in the game.
The reason for his breakout has to do with the development of an increasingly-rare split-fingered fastball. After failing to throw a documented split-fingered fastball in the entirety of his career before ’18, he has thrown it 35.1% of the time according to Pitch Info. Hitters are mustering a .167 slugging percentage and have not gotten an extra-base hit off the pitch. More importantly, it is inducing a 25.49 Whiff% this season, which is seriously amazing.
This pitch has worked extremely well with his four-seamer, which averages around 94 mph. It has been less hittable than in any other season and the timing is revelatory. He also throws a slider for good measure, which can be nasty when he goes to it.
The Padres may not be compelled to move both Yates and Hand, but the former only has two and a half years of control remaining. While there is no doubt he would be an excellent closer in Hand’s absence, San Diego is not thinking about winning at present so they could go to one of their other five really good relievers as a replacement closer. His value is at an all-time high and the team should capitalize. The Red Sox and Padres have a history of working with each other (Pomeranz and Kimbrel) and could probably put together a decent package similar, or even greater, than what the Nats gave up for Herrera. If this were to perspire, Boston Red Sox fans would witness the greatest splitter from a Boston pitcher since Koji Uehara.
Honorable Mentions: Shane Greene, Joakim Soria, Sergio Romo, Jose Alvarado, Brad Brach, Zach Britton and Michael Feliz
All stats courtesy of the wonderful Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball