Koji Uehara suffered a non-displaced wrist fracture on the line drive that hit him on the wrist on Friday in Detroit. His year is done. In some ways, that grim fact – about which Peter Abraham writes – is secondary to its aftermath.
The likely closer in Uehara’s absence? That would be Jean Machi, a man designated for assignment by the Giants in July and unclaimed by every team in the National League.
This is the Red Sox bullpen in 2015, one of the only two relief units in the majors (along with the Rangers) pegged by Fangraphsas being worse than replacement level. Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have offered some stability to the final two innings, but beyond that duo, it’s almost jarring to examine the pitcher-by-pitcher performances.
The team has featured one pitcher who is tied for the most relief homers allowed this year (Alexi Ogando, 11) and another who is tied for fourth (Craig Breslow, 8). Four pitchers who have spent time in the bullpen this year have been designated for assignment (Edward Mujica, Anthony Varvaro – before it was revealed that he required shoulder surgery that resulted in his return to the 40-man roster, Dalier Hinojosa, and most recently Justin Masterson). One was claimed off waivers after being designated by another team (Machi). Another six relievers have represented the sort of optionable players who typically help to define replacement level (Robbie Ross Jr., Tommy Layne, Matt Barnes, Noe Ramirez, Jonathan Aro, and Heath Hembree).
In a way, the bullpen weakness is a promising development for the Red Sox as they look towards next year. Bullpens offer one area of team-building that can be transformed most rapidly.
The Astros, for instance, have a 2.78 bullpen ERA this year that ranks second in the AL – one year after they posted a 4.80 mark that ranked last in the majors. To do so, they committed about $31 million in guaranteed money to righthanded relievers with funk (Luke Gregorson, Pat Neshek), and plucked one about-to-break through reliever off of waivers (Will Harris), with that trio scaffolding two players who had offered some degree of foundation (Chad Qualls, Tony Sipp) upon which to build.
Still, the fact that one team successfully overhauled its relief corps from top to bottom makes the task no less daunting. Indeed, with Uehara out and the team trying to manage the workload of Tazawa, the true dimensions of the task may appear greater than ever.
The Red Sox may need to rethink their player development strategy as it pertains to relievers, writes Ryan Morrison of Baseball Prospectus.