There’s no comparing bullpens of Red Sox and Yankees

The Red Sox’ highest-paid reliever is Tyler Thornburg, who will earn $1.75 million if he makes the Opening Day roster.
The Red Sox’ highest-paid reliever is Tyler Thornburg, who will earn $1.75 million if he makes the Opening Day roster.(BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox have a better lineup than the Yankees, and while the rotations are more comparable, the Sox also have the edge there, assuming Chris Sale is indeed healthy.

But when evaluating the bullpens, it’s a complete mismatch in favor of the Yankees.

In Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees have four relievers to finish games. They have combined for 431 saves and 11 selections to the All-Star Game and will make $46.325 million this season.

The Red Sox have 15 pitchers on their 40-man roster who profile as relievers if they pitch in the majors this season. They have combined for 17 saves and one All-Star selection.


The highest paid is Tyler Thornburg, who will earn $1.75 million if he makes the Opening Day roster. There’s no guarantee of that.

“The Yankees have a great bullpen. I’m not going to say that they don’t,” Red Sox righthander Matt Barnes said on Saturday. “Anybody who understands or watches the game knows that they have a great bullpen and a great team. But so do we.”

The Yankees built their bullpen with a roar in the offseason, retaining Britton with a three-year, $39 million contract and signing Ottavino for three years and $27 million.

The Sox answered with a whisper. Their only reliever added to the 40-man roster from outside the organization was Colten Brewer, a righthander with intriguing breaking pitches but also one the San Diego Padres didn’t have room on their roster for and decided to trade.

Their only other additions were via minor league contracts. Those pitchers are a collection of lottery tickets in that there’s potential for success but long odds it will actually happen.

It worked last year when Ryan Brasier emerged from minor league camp and ended up appearing in nine postseason games. He’s become a blueprint now.


The Sox believe they can find another nugget among all the gravel.

“We’re open-minded,” manager Alex Cora said before the Sox beat the Yankees, 8-5, in the Grapefruit League opener. “If you can get people out and your stuff is good, we’ll call you up. We’ll use you.”

The Sox made no attempt to retain Joe Kelly, who signed with the Dodgers. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has repeatedly said the payroll, already the highest in the game, won’t be expanded to keep All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. He remains a free agent.

That leaves Barnes at the head of a group that includes Thornburg, Brasier, Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, Bobby Poyner, Hector Velazquez, Brandon Workman, and Steven Wright.

Only Barnes and Brasier had significant roles in the 2018 postseason, with Hembree and Workman also getting in some games.

But the Sox believe they have enough quality arms in the mix to make it work.

“Joe and Craig were a big part of the bullpen. But we have a lot of guys with postseason experience and we’ve been together for a while,” Barnes said. “I have confidence in our guys.”

It’s also important to understand that the Opening Day bullpen will shift into many forms. The Sox used 20 relievers last season, and that was with a team that won 108 games.

“It evolves; it changes,” Cora said. “Our team in April was different than the one we had in July, and then our team in July was a lot different in October . . . Everybody comes into play.”


Yankees manager Aaron Boone likes how his team built the roster. But he acknowledges what the Red Sox are trying could work.

“Bullpens can be one of those things than develops pretty fast organically,” Boone said. “We’ll see a lot of quality bullpens emerge if you have the right kind of arms. Sometimes they’re somewhat anonymous.”

If Cora is concerned about his team’s only apparent weakness, he has hid it well.

“In this game, there’s no right or wrong. At the end, the players decide what happens on the field,” he said. “I’m comfortable with it. I do feel we do a good job of mixing and matching and maximizing their stuff against the opposition.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.