The Boston Red Sox have found themselves in an enviable position entering spring training. With a minimum of ten strong arms crowding the bullpen and just six or seven roster spots available, the Red Sox will have to be creative.
There’s an age old saying in baseball that suggests a team “can never have too much pitching”. Most teams dream of being able to utter those words. For the Red Sox, that dream is a reality. The Sox figure to carry 11 or 12 pitchers coming out of camp. Five of them will be starters Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront. That leaves a very formidable cast to battle for the available bullpen slots.
Among the candidates are Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Craig Breslow, Rubby De La Rosa, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara. Just recently, 80-MPH knuckleball thrower Steven Wright has forced his name into the conversation. If you’re keeping count, that’s 11 pitchers for a possible seven spots. More good news: The group includes three left-handers. Most of these guys are proven commodities, and it would accomplish very little to send them back to Triple-A. Given their individual situations, Bard, De La Rosa, and Wright would really be the only choices to be sent down. But even those three have a very good shot at pitching their way out of that option this spring.
The easy solution here would be to make a trade, though that alternative presents an obvious risk. Pitchers get hurt. They get tired. They run into stretches of ineffectiveness. That’s why bullpen depth is essential. What the Red Sox will likely do is use the “phantom disabled list” to keep their pitchers fresh. I fully expect to see a revolving door leading to the 15-day DL this season, with nagging-type injuries that call for a few days off resulting in a full two-week stint on the shelf instead. The philosophy, though frowned upon by the player’s union and MLB alike, can be a tremendous advantage to a team loaded with live arms.
If the Sox can land an all-star quality left fielder with a decent contract, then I would welcome a trade. But the thought is probably unrealistic. In this sense, a rotating bullpen is the best option for this team. If they can keep games close through the sixth inning, the Red Sox relief corps will be an invaluable asset in 2013.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)