In attempting to build a bullpen for the 2016 Red Sox, Dave Dombrowski won't have a lot of choices, but there are enough to piece together something reasonable and allow the team to compete for the playoffs.
Dombrowski's successes and failures in this area in Detroit were certainly well documented. Todd Jones, Jose Valverde, and Joe Nathan didn't work out. Joaquin Benoit wasn't bad.
One of the top bullpen builders in baseball is Kevin Towers, who has a checklist of requirements.
"The best bullpen I ever had was 1996 with the Padres, and we didn't have a lefty," said Towers, now a special assistant to Reds general manager Walt Jocketty. "We had righties who could pitch to lefties, guys with splits, etc. But they're hard to find, and I'm not big on situational lefties."
Towers said he likes to build from the back, with a strong closer and setup men who throw differently.
"I don't want all seven guys to throw 95-98 and the same way," he said. "I want guys who throw differently, who show different angles and deliveries. Late innings is all about changing eye levels and showing hitters a variety of looks."
Towers likes some of his relievers to pitch to contact, and "I always want a guy who if he gets behind on the count, has a way of coming back to retire the batter."
Towers needs some relievers with minor league options so he can shuttle them back and forth to Triple A to rest arms and give the manager flexibility. He said he doesn't believe in long men, but he does believe in relievers who can give you two innings.
"Over the long haul, guys who can pitch multiple innings save your bullpen," Towers said.
Dombrowski will likely use a combination of trades, free agents, and pitchers from within. Here are some possibilities:
Possible trade targets
1. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Reds — Chapman, who throws 100 miles per hour, could very well be available, but for a boatload of prospects. The dilemma would be, save the prospects for an ace or use them on a closer? An ace could be acquired via free agency, as could back-end relief. Towers said it would take a blockbuster package.
2. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Padres — Not necessarily available. The Padres didn't trade him at the deadline, and if they're retooling this offseason to try to make another run, he may not be available again. But the consensus is the Padres would look to reload with major league-ready players, so an outfielder, third baseman, and starting pitcher may be in their sights.
3. David Robertson, RHP, White Sox — The White Sox may be open to anything. They drew some interest in Robertson at the trade deadline, but they were on the edge of the wild-card race and felt they needed to keep him. The offseason may be a different story. The White Sox need a third baseman and outfield help.
4. Wade Davis, RHP, Royals — Maybe the best setup man in the business, so it's hard to believe the Royals would part with him. But if the Red Sox offer a young starting pitcher (Joe Kelly? Wade Miley?), the Royals could bite given they have a good arsenal of relievers even without Davis, who could set up or be the closer if Koji Uehara isn't ready.
5. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, Brewers — Former GM Doug Melvin was surprised there wasn't more action on K-Rod at the deadline. Then in the final week of August he was claimed on waivers but pulled back by the Brewers when they couldn't make a deal. K-Rod would be only 34, and he's had a very good season. He has an affordable $5.5 million salary and there would be worse choices to have around to co-close with Uehara.
6. Drew Storen, RHP, Nationals — Has not been the same pitcher since the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon. Storen saved 29 games, then the Papelbon move backfired on Washington as Storen became ineffective in a setup role. Still, he's a good arm with experience in both roles. The Nationals may be eager to move him. Storen is arbitration-eligible for one more season.
7. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Nationals — It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Nationals turn around and deal him this offseason. One more year at $13 million isn't bad for a guy who can still do the job.
8. Will Harris, RHP, Astros — Harris has a 1.32 ERA this season. Tough guy to get, but worth a package of players. A stalwart late in games.
Possible free agents
1. Joakim Soria, RHP, Pirates — Figuring in his history with Dombrowski, who traded for him in Detroit and then dealt him to the Pirates at the trade deadline, this one makes sense. Soria could be utilized as the closer or in a setup role.
2. Darren O'Day, RHP, Orioles — The submariner is effective in the late innings, especially against righthanders. He could also close if needed. The Red Sox could use a pitcher with a deceptive delivery and some power.
3. Tyler Clippard, RHP, Mets — Effective wherever he's been. Clippard doesn't seem stressed by late-inning situations. He's pitched in the expanse of Oakland and in the pressure cookers of Washington and New York. A good setup man who can close.
4. Tony Sipp, LHP, Astros — Has had his ups and downs the past few years, but effective for the most part (2.14 ERA this season in 50 appearances). Better splits against righthanded batters (.172) but could be used against anyone.
Possibilities from within
1. Joe Kelly, RHP — We've seen the 97-98-m.p.h. fastball. Enough said. Kelly told WEEI.com this summer that being a reliever puts stress on his arm, but he seems adaptable given he was a college closer, as well as a reliever for a spell with the Cardinals.
2. Pat Light, RHP — Light got knocked around at times in Pawtucket, but he's worth sticking with to develop as a late-inning guy. Look at former Red Sox farmhand Alex Wilson, who was one of the top relievers in baseball this year with the Tigers.
3. Noe Ramirez, RHP — Ramirez has really good stuff. It seems confidence and learning the hitters would be his next obstacle, but Ramirez shows signs of being a young reliever who could help.
Agent devises executive metric
Player agent Burton Rocks has devised an "executive metric" to quantify intangibles for executives. He calls the categories UPA (Unique Personal Achievement) and UPAt (Unique Personal Attribute).
According to Rocks, who started working on this back in law school, "The UPA quantifies an achievement in the person's background not previously thought to be on target to the task at hand but yet very important. This UPA could, if itemized and explained in terms of leadership and management skills, be of extreme value to the hiring owner."
Rocks said the UPAt is "simultaneously meant to quantify the qualities of the candidate that they feel important when weighed against comparable candidates with backgrounds dissimilar. In other words, if a person can overcome a life-threatening experience as a child, that tenacity and willingness to fight hard and 'negotiate' can make for a successful agent and executive."
For each category there are five subparts, each carrying a 1-point grade for a perfect score of 5.
UPA (5 points) — A. Leading others to a specific and beneficial result (1); B. Overcoming adversity to achieve a specific goal (1); C. Achieving a goal after a previous failed effort (1); D. Achieving a goal after being rejected for like position (1); E. Achieving a specific honor in a category not previously thought to be relevant to current job or position sought (1).
UPAt: (5 points) — A. Creativity during adversity as characteristic important as an attribute for current job (1); B. Leadership as quality for current job with reference from previous experience as attribute (1); C. Tenacity to see a task through to one's own desired end (1); D. Amenability to work well with others in environment (1); E. Overcoming adversity either with a disability or with any hardship in one's personal life as testament to a person's inner strength (1).
Rocks said, "Sports owners need executives who can ably do the following: 1. Create a winning environment by selecting top talent in various forms; 2. Create a broader fan base; 3. Manage executives under their authority in a way that maximizes production. These three tasks entail qualities that can come from the UPA and UPAt that were previously thought to be unquantifiable."
Apropos of nothing
1. Lou Schwechheimer was for years part of the pioneering Pawtucket Red Sox troika that also included Ben Mondor and Mike Tamburro. Schwechheimer, the longtime PawSox GM, is now out on his own, having led a group to buy the Triple A New Orleans Zephyrs, and the Charlotte Stone Crabs (purchased from Cal Ripken Jr.). The PawSox were sold to a group led by Larry Lucchino. While Tamburro has stayed on for the time being, he too will likely be gone from a franchise the late Mondor built. Schwechheimer is also chief executive officer of Cuban Baseball Initiative Limited Partnership.
2. Dick Flavin's "Red Sox Rhymes" gives us one gem after another. Here's one:
"Take me out to the ballgame.
First, let's stop at the bank.
I'll need a mortgage so I can pay.
Parking the car is another outlay.
And you can pay big bucks for a hot dog,
The cost of beer is insane.
For it's Oh my! Prices high
At the old ballgame."
3. Warren Cromartie, who heads the Montreal Baseball Project in an attempt to bring a team back to that city, met with Red Sox officials over the weekend to spread the word about the viability of relocating an existing team (Tampa Bay or Oakland) to Montreal, or possible expansion down the road. Cromartie is trying to garner support around baseball and the Red Sox seemed impressed that Montreal is ready for a second chance. Cromartie also was trying to finalize plans for a Red Sox/Blue Jays weekend in Montreal before the season starts.
4. With the first pick of the rookie draft in the Dominican winter league last week, Escogido selected Red Sox minor league third baseman Rafael Devers. Toros del Este took Red Sox outfielder Manuel Margot with the first pick last year. Previous No. 1s include Albert Pujols, Miguel Sano, and Raul Mondesi Jr.
5. How long will Rays ownership hang in there when Montreal would provide an attendance stream of at least 28,000 per game?
Updates on nine
1. Brad Ausmus, manager, Tigers — After speculating a few weeks back that Ausmus might not return, reports heated up last week that he would be dismissed. General manager Al Avila issued a statement saying Ausmus and others in the organization will be evaluated at the end of the season. If he's out, Ausmus might not be down for long. There are whispers in the industry that he would become the Padres' manager, replacing interim skipper Pat Murphy. Ausmus was a special assistant in San Diego before taking the job in Detroit. Dave Dombrowski hired Ausmus in Detroit, so the Red Sox could be another possibility.
2. Rick Renteria, former manager, Cubs — We're hearing now that Renteria has had some "indirect feelers" from teams concerning managerial jobs. Renteria was dumped by the Cubs when they hired Joe Maddon but is well thought of in the business. Think Detroit, Miami, San Diego.
3. Charlie Kerfeld, special assistant, Phillies — Kerfeld does not know his fate now that Ruben Amaro has been removed as GM. Kerfeld is one of the top pitching evaluators in the game and should have no problem hooking on elsewhere. It'll be interesting to see if Andy MacPhail retains him.
4. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies — He's the last of the Phillies' old guard, so this offseason the Phillies will have a decision to make. He has $25 million left on his contract for 2016, plus a $10 million buyout of his option for 2017. Lots of money remaining, so he's going to be a swap for a bad contract or be released. Howard has 21 home runs and 72 RBIs this season, but the albatross is his .133 average against lefthanders. If he could turn that around — like David Ortiz did — he'd be a serviceable DH.
5. Matt Duffy, 1B/3B, Astros — Duffy, Milton's own via St. Sebastian's and the University of Vermont, was named the Pacific Coast League MVP with Fresno. He led the league in RBIs (104) and runs (94), while batting .294 with 29 doubles, 2 triples, 20 homers, and an .850 OPS. A 20th-round pick in the 2011 draft, he's been an All-Star every season (five) in the Astros' system. He's likely to get the call to Houston when Fresno is out of the playoffs.
6. Terry Doyle, RHP, Orioles — The former Boston College star deserves a call up to Baltimore (though he's not on the 40-man roster) after a combined 16-2 record and a 2.16 ERA between Double and Triple A. Doyle spent two seasons with the Red Sox, in Portland and Pawtucket. He's 63-48 with a 3.24 ERA in eight minor league seasons.
7. Kevin Towers, special assistant to the GM, Reds — Towers has only heard about possible interest in him "through back channels" and has no idea if he'll be a GM at this time next year. "I'm 53 and would love to get back in, but if it doesn't happen I'm perfectly happy here with Walt [Jocketty]. It's been fun going through our organization and evaluating our young talent." An Oregon native, Towers might be a candidate in Seattle.
8. Fredi Gonzalez, manager, Braves — Gonzalez's job security may not be the best after the Braves' recent swoon. President of baseball operations John Hart will likely make the call in the offseason. Gonzalez is another with Dombrowski ties.
9. Ron Gardenhire, former manager, Twins — Gardenhire, like Renteria, is positioning himself as a possible choice when vacancies occur. Teams possibly making changes: Philadelphia, San Diego, Boston, Detroit, Miami, and Washington.
From the Bill Chuck files — "Here's an MVP stat: Josh Donaldson leads the majors with 20 homers when the score is tied." . . . Also, "Adding to his free agent-to-be status, Chris Davis leads the majors with 62 RBIs when his Orioles are within one run of opponents." . . . Happy birthday, Daisuke Matsuzaka (35), Wade Miller (39), Steve Curry (50), Rick Wise (70), and Bob Heffner (77).
The Reds ended Francisco Rodriguez's streak of 35 consecutive saves emphatically on Aug. 29, scoring four runs in a 12-9 win. But the 35th save in the streak 10 days earlier moved K-Rod past Joe Nathan for most saves by an active closer with 378. It also left him seventh on the all-time save list. How he compares with the game's best closers:
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.