SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Red Sox built their 2019 bullpen without an experienced or fixed closer, entering the year with a flexible approach to the late innings.
The subsequent struggles of the relief corps, most notably their 31 blown saves (second most in MLB) and 52 percent save percentage (third worst in MLB), were blamed by many on the talent and structure — or lack thereof — of the relievers.
Yet many members of the organization objected to that characterization, particularly by the end of the year when Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Josh Taylor all had emerged as solid to elite late-innings contributors, with Workman converting 13 of 15 save opportunities while holding hitters to a .144/.266/.163 line in the second half.
Now, as the incoming chief baseball officer, Chaim Bloom has an opportunity to take a fresh look at the group. The new leader of the Red Sox baseball operations department believes that he’s inheriting a strong late-innings infrastructure.
“I think there’s actually a good amount of talent here in the ’pen,” said Bloom from the annual GM Meetings.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to continue to work with some of these guys and get even more added, some guys who may not have had the success that they have the potential to have, that we’ll be able to push them towards that success. Obviously that’s our job as a staff in conjunction with the coaching staff to do that.”
Bloom suggested that Workman demonstrated an ability to handle a traditional closer’s role, though he said that it would be premature to commit to the righthander in that capacity.
“He did a hell of a job,” said Bloom. “He certainly proved more than capable of handling that role. I just don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves in determining how it’s going to line up for 2020.”
That approach with Workman is part of a rather open-minded approach to bullpen construction.
Bloom said that he’s open to both having a defined closer or taking a more versatile approach to the position, and that while he values experience in the late innings, he also doesn’t see that as a prerequisite to bullpen roles.
“I don’t think it’s fair to have one set model. I think every club is different,” said Bloom. “You have to do what you think is going to work best for you, what you think is going to win you the most games.”
Though he declined to outline a specific bullpen structure, Bloom acknowledged that the Sox will look to add to their overall bullpen depth — though it remains to be seen what form that takes. In Tampa Bay last year, the Rays bolstered their bullpen with trades for players such as Emilio Pagan and Nick Anderson last year — though Tampa Bay also made a push to sign Craig Kimbrel before the ex-Sox closer signed with the Cubs. In short, Bloom has shown a willingness to explore different paths to building a bullpen, an approach that he’s likely to continue in Boston.
“The season is long and you can’t just run seven deep. You have to go a lot deeper than that,” said Bloom. “That’s always going to be a big focus of ours, to make sure we have enough depth and quality depth to withstand what the season brings.”
La Russa heads west
Though Tony La Russa, hired as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski after the 2017 season, initially decided to remain with the Red Sox after Dombrowski’s firing in September, the longtime manager and executive changed course. On Tuesday, the Angels announced that La Russa was joining their front office as a special advisor to the baseball operations department.
La Russa was widely enjoyed and appreciated in the Red Sox organization, both within the baseball operations department and by manager Alex Cora and members of the coaching staff.
“Tony is an incredible person and his Hall of Fame résumé speaks for itself,” GM Brian O’Halloran wrote in a text. “He is one of the most humble, genuine, and caring people I’ve ever been around. His sense of humor is legendary. It has been one of the greatest experiences of my career to work with him for the past two years, and his many contributions to the Red Sox are truly appreciated. While we are happy for Tony for this opportunity, we will miss him.”
“What a great baseball mind!” Cora said via text message. “He challenged me in a positive way in every conversation we had about games, preparation, players, and roster configuration. He was very helpful in these two years that were opposite result-wise.”
A look at the future
Red Sox prospect Bobby Dalbec ripped an RBI double in a 4-3 Team USA victory over Japan in the Premier12 international tournament. Dalbec is now 6 for 21 with two homers, a double, and three walks in the tournament, highlighting his evident potential as a run producer.
“He’s a really good player and we expect him to be a big part of our future,” said O’Halloran. “We look forward to him being with us again in big-league camp and go from there.”
That said, while the Sox hold Dalbec — their No. 2 prospect — in high regard, he’s played just 30 games in Triple-A Pawtucket. Though he’s a lock to be added to the team’s 40-man roster later this month, both O’Halloran and Bloom described it as “premature” to forecast whether he had a chance to be part of the big league roster out of spring training.
“For the most part, especially with more advanced players, you don’t want to make too many predeterminations,” said Bloom. “I’m getting my arms around the history of the player and everything he can do and where he’s at in his development.”
It’s worth noting that Bloom’s former organization, the Rays, typically employed what was and is seen throughout the industry as a relatively deliberate player development path through the minors . . .
A look at Chavis
The Red Sox view Michael Chavis as capable of playing three infield positions (1B, 2B, and 3B), but O’Halloran said that the team hadn’t made a decision about where he’s likely to spend most of his time on the field in 2020. The team hasn’t ruled out giving Chavis some time in the outfield, but for now, the discussions surrounding his role have focused on the infield . . . The Sox have confirmed that they’ll connect with Dustin Pedroia for an in-person visit later this week, before returning to Boston.