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While the Red Sox bullpen had been one of the team’s foremost strengths through the first half of the season, the group’s success came in somewhat unlikely fashion. Rather than a dominant succession of arms creating a turnkey procession through the late-innings, Red Sox manager John Farrell had mixed-and-matched his way through the seventh and eighth innings.
Nearly every one of his setup relievers – righties Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and more recently Brandon Workman, along with lefty Robby Scott – had been effective against batters from one side of the plate while struggling against hitters of the opposite handedness. Moreover, it was a group light on closing experience, leaving no clear alternative to Craig Kimbrel on days when the All-Star wasn’t available.
Against the backdrop, the Red Sox’ acquisition Monday of righthander Addison Reed for a trio of minor league relievers (a deal that was agreed upon pending medical reviews, according to multiple major league sources) makes considerable sense. The 28-year-old 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 as an effective reliever 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/.288/.388 with 17 strikeouts and one walk) this year. With 19 saves in 21 opportunities, he offers the Red Sox a measure of comfort should Kimbrel be unavailable.
Reed is eligible for free agency after the season, something that constrained the prospect cost for his services. The Red Sox will assume the approximately $2.6 million balance of his 2017 salary.
For Reed, the Red Sox gave up three minor league relievers with late-innings potential, agreeing to send Triple A righthander Jamie Callahan (a 2012 second-rounder) and High A righties Stephen Nogosek (a 2016 sixth-rounder) and Gerson Bautista (an international amateur find in 2013) to the Mets. While there’s a chance that the Sox may have parted with three future valuable big league pieces, in adding Eduardo Nunez and Reed, the Sox have managed to keep intact their top 10-15 prospects, drawing on a depth of potential future late-innings arms rather than projected starters.
Callahan, 22, is the closest to the big leagues. After an eye-opening performance in the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2016 and spring training this year, he’s 5-2 with a 3.21 ERA, 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings, and 2.8 walks per nine in 42 innings split between Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket this year. He’d been less overpowering in Pawtucket (4.03 ERA, 11.2 strikeouts per nine, 4.0 walks per nine), but his arsenal – a mid-90s fastball with flashes of a swing-and-miss splitter and slider – gives him a clear late-innings ceiling. Callahan will have to be added to the 40-man roster by this winter. If he’s not, he’s a sure bet (barring injury) to be taken in the Rule 5 draft.
Nogosek, 22, was taken by the Sox in the sixth round of the 2016 draft as a pitcher with college closing experience who had a chance to fast-track through the minors. He combines a low- to mid-90s fastball, with a tremendous slider. In his first full pro season, he has a 3.06 ERA, 19 saves in 23 chances, 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings, and 3.6 walks per nine between Single A Greenville (where he was a South Atlantic League All-Star) and High A Salem (4.08 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 2/3 innings).
Bautista represents a wild card, a 22-year-old who lives in the mid- to high-90s and can touch triple digits while featuring flashes of a swing-and-miss slider, but who lacks the control to have a reliable big league floor. In 45 1/3 innings for High A Salem this year, he has a 5.16 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.6 walks per nine.
Bautista is far from big league-ready at a time when he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster this winter. He could turn into a closer, or he may never progress past the point of being an up-and-down relief depth option.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.