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Emphasis on bullpen depth combined with John Farrell’s creative utilization of pitching in the later innings was a major part of the 2013 World Championship season. What will happen in 2014? Should the Red Sox trade for, or purchase, a few more experienced arms? Or should the bullpen begin utilizing the minor league MVPs (Most Valuable Pitchers), like Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes? Fans can speculate, but there is certainty that no big-ticket pitchers will be brought aboard, as the front office wants to avoid crossing the luxury tax threshold. Let’s take a look at the relievers we have and those that remain as possible targets for acquisition.
As it stands, the current go-to relievers in the Red Sox bullpen are Craig Breslow, Ryan Webster, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton and Junichi Tazawa, among others. Boston’s minor league depth is unquestionably strong, leading many fans to state that there is no need to add more pitching to the major league bullpen. Strategically speaking, Boston needs two relief pitchers per game. Two arms need to be ready in case something may go awry with the starting pitcher. The first reliever must have the arm and the resolve to come in earlier, if say, Jake Peavy blows his start prior to the fourth inning, which happened in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. Relievers like Tazawa, and even former starter Felix Doubront, may be the ones to fill that first reliever spot. The second string reliever, in my mind a fresh arm to bridge the gap in the seventh and eighth inning, will set up the closer. The best fit for the second stringer would be a Webster or Workman. This seems to have been the formula that Farrell used during the 2013 season. I believe it can work again.
There may be other relief pitchers outside the organization that the Red Sox could bring aboard before the beginning of Spring Training. However, according to the most recent AL East post on MLB Trade Rumors, trade talks and additional acquisitions seem unlikely. Two players, Kevin Jepsen and Ryan Madson, had been on the front office’s radar. Jepsen is arbitration eligible in 2014 and could be positive addition to a bullpen throughout this New Year. His numbers are not convincing with a 4.50 ERA in 45 games with the Los Angeles Angels last year. Meanwhile Madson seems way too much of a gamble as his last appearance on the field was in 2011. His numbers look good with the last recorded ERA as 2.37. All of his potential hinges on how his elbow and Tommy John surgery heals in 2014.
The chatter on Jepsen and Madson passed for good reason. They do not seem to be worthy candidates for the Red Sox bullpen at this time. Plus, with the signing of Edward Mujica in December 2013, further relief acquisitions seem unnecessary at this time. Boston should hold firm to the relievers they have in the bullpen and in the minors. The team made some great trade and acquisition moves in the past. These pitchers need to be cultivated for the positions in which they are best suited, whether that is for the first reliever or second string reliever strategy set in 2013. With this reliever equation in place, Juan Nieves and Farrell need to only input the variables.