DETROIT — The Red Sox do not have many external solutions for their bullpen issues unless free agent Jonathan Papelbon decides to join his old team, and even that is fraught with peril.
The only relievers who cleared revocable waivers last week and can legitimately be expected to help a team are Kansas City’s Joakim Soria and Oakland’s Ryan Madson, and they come with the obvious problem of costing a lot of money.
Among relievers who might have helped the Red Sox who were claimed and then pulled back include Atlanta’s Jim Johnson, who saved 50-plus games in 2012 and ’13 for Baltimore. He is obviously battle tested in the AL East, though his performance has been uneven the past three years.
According to one major league source, “there have been a lot of blocks,” which means teams put in claims for players they really didn’t want just to make sure they didn’t go to a rival. When a player is claimed, the team that put him out there can then pull the player back, work out a deal with the claiming team, or let the player go to the claiming team. If a player goes unclaimed, his team is free to move him after that.
The Red Sox hadn’t put anyone out on revocable waivers as of midweek. Under Ben Cherington and Theo Epstein, some players would have passed through by this point, but Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski seems to have a different strategy in which he prefers players clearing later in the process. Rosters have to be solidified for the playoffs by Aug. 31.
Some of the players who have cleared waivers and can now be traded anywhere have larger contracts. Players we have confirmed to have cleared include Dodgers lefty Scott Kazmir, who is in the first year of a three-year, $48 million deal and has 10 wins; Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters, who can be a free agent and is working under a qualifying offer of $15.7 million; Braves outfielder Nick Markakis, who has two years at $22 million each remaining on his deal; Braves outfielder Matt Kemp, whose $160 million contract runs through 2019; White Sox starter James Shields (5-15, 5.98 ERA); Texas first baseman Mitch Moreland; and Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki.
You just don’t see many relievers and the ones who could be available, teams may not want or don’t feel they could be an upgrade over what they have.
Dombrowski may have already tried to place a claim on a reliever then been unable to make a deal because the asking price is too high.
Dombrowski has a history with Soria, having dealt for him in Detroit and then dealt him away to Pittsburgh. Between the remainder of this season, the next two seasons, and a buyout of a $10 million option, there’s about $20 million left to be paid to the righthander.
Ten of his last 11 outings going into Saturday have resulted in scoreless appearances. And what you want is a reliever on the upswing at the right time.
Madson’s contract runs through 2018 at a cost of $7.3 million per season. He has 25 saves but hasn’t always been lights out, though he has worked in a setup role before and performed well. Madson also worked for Red Sox first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr. when they were in Philadelphia, so there’s a connection there.
Red Sox relievers Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, who were paid a combined $12.3 million this season, will be free agents at season’s end. It’s unknown whether Uehara would be re-signed (if he is, it would be for far less than the $9 million he’s making), but it appears Tazawa may become a free agent given his performance down the stretch the past two years.
Brad Ziegler is also a free agent and the prorated portion of his $5.5 million salary could also be off the Red Sox payroll. So if the Red Sox believe that Soria and Madson could be solid replacements, the Sox could make the financial commitment. Soria is 32 and Madson will turn 36 on Aug. 28.
It’s all about trying to win right now, but there has to be an eye toward the next couple of years as well.
The team will shed David Ortiz’s $16 million salary and perhaps Clay Buchholz’s $13.5 million (though there’s another $13.5 million club option, which may tempt the Sox once more). The Red Sox are also paying $11 million next season for Allen Craig and $11.27 million for Rusney Castillo. And we haven’t even mentioned Pablo Sandoval, who will take in $17.6 million next season.
Some of their savings will be offset by increases for some of their young players, most notably Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., who are arbitration eligible in 2017. Sandy Leon is also arbitration eligible in 2017. The Red Sox luck out with both Mookie Betts and Steven Wright, who won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2018.