When it comes to rebuilding the Red Sox for 2016, the area that needs the most work and a complete overhaul isn’t the starting rotation like many believe – it’s actually the bullpen.
Going into Monday, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.31, which is 26th in baseball. The Red Sox have scored the third-most runs in all of baseball this year and while the starting rotation hasn’t been the greatest, it’s been good enough to win games. The biggest problem has been once the starters leave the game, the bullpen hasn’t been able to hold leads.
While injuries – most notably to Koji Uehara – have been part of it, the bullpen needs a complete overhaul. Aside from Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, every member of the bullpen likely won’t be back next season.
Names like Robbie Ross Jr., Craig Breslow, Tommy Layne, Jonathan Aro, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Noe Ramirez, Alexi Ogando – those are all the relievers who haven’t got it done this season. The team has even tapped into their relievers with Triple-A Pawtucket and no one has stepped up to take advantage of the situation.
Sunday was a perfect example, as Tazawa has been forced into the closer’s role, one he’s admitted in 2013 he isn’t comfortable in, but with who the Red Sox have, they had little choice following Uehara’s season-ending injury.
Tazawa allowed four ninth inning runs on six hits, blowing the save in the Red Sox’ 8-6 loss to the Royals Sunday at Fenway Park.
"I think he's bumped up a role and as I've been saying over the past couple days, we're going to be patient through the process with a lot of these guys in changing their roles and continue to give them the ball,” interim manager Torey Lovullo said. “It's a learning moment for [Tazawa] and I think as we keep moving forward he's going to be better off from his moment.”
Looking ahead to 2016, building around Uehara and Tazawa isn’t a bad place to start, but with Uehara approaching 40-years-old, the team might be better off going after a proven closer in the offseason and turning Uehara into a set-up man. He and Tazawa would be a great seventh-eighth inning combination.
The team could take a look at Layne as a lefty-specialist, but he hasn’t been consistent the entire season. So aside from a closer, they will be seeking one or two lefties.
Baseball is shifting towards putting more and more focus on bullpens, as evident by the Royals riding their bullpen all the way to the World Series last year, and the Red Sox are way behind in that trend. The good thing is it only takes one offseason to get a bullpen back on track and it should be a major focus for the Red Sox this winter.