The Red Sox’ bullpen has been a source of scrutiny among fans and pundits alike for much of the offseason, and it seems quite likely that thinking will continue heading into the season. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters prior to today’s Spring Training contest that he doesn’t expect to sign any free-agent relievers between now and Opening Day (link via Rob Bradford of WEEI).
“As far as signings are concerned I would say we’re through at this point,” Dombrowski said when asked about his bullpen. Dombrowski wouldn’t expressly rule out the possibility of changing course if something in Spring Training necessitated an addition, but he added that at the moment, the Sox “don’t have anything going on outside the organization.”
It’s been apparent for quite some time now that a reunion between the Red Sox and Craig Kimbrel is exceedingly unlikely — Dombrowski himself has hinted at that reality — but it’s still somewhat of a surprise to hear a fairly definitive statement indicating that the Sox are done adding. The free-agent market for relievers has largely been picked over, but there are still some interesting big league arms in the form of Bud Norris, Adam Warren and Tony Sipp, among others (as can be seen in MLBTR’s Free Agent Tracker).
Boston, as explored here recently, is within roughly $4.7MM of the top luxury tax penalty bracket, which would see their top draft pick reduced by 10 spots next year and would come with a 75 percent tax on any dollar spent above that line. Given that Spring Training games are already underway, though, it seems unlikely that any reliever other than Kimbrel would command enough money to push the Sox across that line. Then again, perhaps the Sox are simply confident that they’ll be able to make any upgrades they need on the trade market this summer and would prefer to leave a bit of flexibility for that possibility.
It’s also worth noting that Dombrowski didn’t rule out adding a reliever at all, so perhaps the Boston will be active on the waiver and trade markets this spring — although it’s unlikely that an intriguing reliever would fall all the way to the Sox, who have the lowest priority after winning an MLB-high 108 games last year. The Sox could make some fringe additions to the ’pen in minor trades, though, as was the case back in November when they acquired Colten Brewer from the Padres. They’re also reportedly entertaining offers for their possible surplus of catchers, and it’s certainly feasible that they could add a big league bullpen asset by that measure.
[Related: Boston Red Sox depth chart]
Bradford writes that right-hander Matt Barnes is the early favorite for ninth-inning work with Boston this year, though he’ll have some competition from Ryan Brasier in that role. Beyond that pairing, the Sox will see what right-handers Brewer, Tyler Thornburg, Steven Wright, Brandon Workman, Hector Velazquez, Travis Lakins and Marcus Walden can bring to the table this spring. Lefty options include Brian Johnson, Bobby Poyner and Josh Taylor. As for minor league signees, the Sox brought Carson Smith back to the organization and also signed Zach Putnam, Brian Ellington and the recently un-banned Jenrry Mejia.