In the days following the acquisition of utilityman Eduardo Nunez, the Red Sox identified the addition of setup help as their top priority before Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline for trades not requiring waivers.
On Sunday — roughly 24 hours prior to that deadline — the team received an unwanted reminder about why it had identified setup help as its top need, as a four-run, eighth-inning yield transformed a 3-1 lead into a 5-3 loss to the Royals.
Multiple major league sources suggest the Red Sox are focused on adding a late-innings reliever. For now, Mets righthander Addison Reed appears to be at or near the top of the wish list, with one source suggesting that Boston’s aggressiveness has positioned the team to have a shot at adding the 28-year-old Reed.
Reed has a 2.57 ERA with 48 strikeouts and just six walks along with 19 saves in 49 innings this year. Since the start of 2016, he’s been one of the most effective relievers in the game, forging a 2.20 ERA with 9.9 strikeouts and 1.4 walks per nine innings. While his last two years have been his best, his track record has been consistent, as he’s averaged more than 60 appearances a season with the White Sox, Diamondbacks, and Mets with a 3.40 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings since 2012.
Reed has been effective against both righties (.250/.280/.420 with 35 strikeouts and six walks) and lefties (.263/.268/.388 with 17 strikeouts and one walk) this season. He’s also an experienced closer who could give the Red Sox a ninth-inning alternative when Craig Kimbrel is unavailable. Those traits would distinguish him from the current members of the Sox bullpen in front of Kimbrel, none of whom has extensive closing experience, and virtually all of whom have been effective against hitters from just one side of the plate this year.
To date, the cost of adding rental players has been relatively modest in the market — something that works to the Sox’ benefit with a free-agent-to-be such as Reed, given that evaluators see few blue-chip prospects available in the Red Sox farm system.
Multiple major league sources suggest that a match with Tigers on lefthander Justin Wilson (2.68 ERA, 12.3 strikeouts and 3.6 walks per nine innings) is unlikely. The Padres’ early asking prices on lefthander Brad Hand — a pitcher with multiple years of team control beyond 2017 — likewise suggested difficulty in a match. There are other potential options on the trade market, though as of early Sunday afternoon, sources suggested that teams are still deciding which relievers to make available.
For much of the year, the Sox’ bullpen has been a strength. Through June, the team had just six blown saves, making it one of the most efficient groups in the majors at turning leads into wins. Moreover, the team’s 2.97 bullpen ERA this year would be its lowest since 1967.
However, in July, the team’s effectiveness has diminished. The Sox have six blown saves this month, contributing to the team’s standings slide. The Sox are now open-minded to improvements.
“I think our bullpen is very good and I think it may have had some scuffles here and there, but I think that predominantly through the entirety of the year, that we’ve been a pretty good bullpen,” said Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes. “But in terms of welcoming an arm, anybody and everybody that can help this team, the Boston Red Sox as a whole, win and get to our ultimate goal of winning a World Series, I don’t think you’ll find a guy in here that will say they don’t want to get better.”
The fact that the Sox are last in the American League in homers and have endured a dramatic offensive struggle this month has left a number of people waiting for them to jump into the market for a slugger. (The team did explore making a deal for J.D. Martinez, but sat on the sidelines for the Mets’ Lucas Duda.) Among those who believe a slugger could help the Sox is one of the greatest sluggers in the franchise’s history.
“A thunder is always good. It’s always a plus. If they can add another power hitter to the lineup, I’d take it in a heartbeat,” said David Ortiz.
(That “thunder” will not be Ortiz. “Not me, man. Not me. I’ve been doing nothing but soul cycle, bro. Hey, I sit down and watch the game right now, and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s hard.’ Seriously. . . . I’m so happy I don’t have to deal with that.”)
While the Red Sox haven’t completely ruled out the addition of a bat, position players are clearly a lower priority for them unless either they fail to add a reliever or an option falls to them as the deadline approaches.