For the second straight offseason, the Red Sox made a trade to strengthen their bullpen. And for the second straight season, that player has found himself on the disabled list to begin that season.
Last year, it was Carson Smith, who the Red Sox acquired in a deal that sent Wade Miley to Seattle. This year, it’s Tyler Thornburg, who the Red Sox acquired in a deal that sent Travis Shaw to Milwaukee. Smith suffered a strain of his flexor mass muscle during 2016 spring training, was placed on the DL, and then activated in early May. He lasted just three outings before going back on the DL and undergoing Tommy John surgery, of which he’s still recovering from today.
The hope is that Thornburg’s injury, which is an impingement of his right shoulder, will not end up as something more serious. Like Smith, the Sox had high hopes that Thornburg would be the setup man for Craig Kimbrel. Now, however, it’ll be a bit of a patchwork job right out of the gates.
But The Show must go on. The Sox lost David Ortiz to retirement but expect their young star hitters to make up for it. Chris Sale now anchors a starting rotation that features the reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, and David Price, who if healthy is also capable of being one of the best in the league.
With or without Thornburg (and Smith) to begin things, the Sox are seen as a World Series contender. But the bullpen remains a bit of a question mark, so let’s take a look.
The Sox go into the season without a very familiar face coming out of the bullpen, Koji Uehara. Koji Time is no more, as the former Sox closer signed with the Cubs as a free agent. Also not back are Junichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler, both now members of the Miami Marlins.
So who is here? John Farrell's 2017 bullpen consists of proven talent, potential, and more than a few question marks.
Craig Kimbrel – Kimbrel is the only real name in this bullpen, as the Sox closer looks to rebound after coming off of a down year, where he went 2-6 with a 3.40 ERA and 31 saves, career lows since he became a full-time closer in 2011.
Heath Hembree - Joe Kelly is slated to begin the season in the setup role, but if that doesn't work out, look for Heath Hembree to step in. Hembree had a breakout year for the Sox last season, striking out 47 batters in 51.0 innings (38 appearances) and finishing with a 2.65 ERA. Only Ziegler finished with a lower ERA among relievers who made over 30 appearances. There's plenty of reason to believe the 28-year-old Hembree will continue to improve.
Robby Scott - There’s certainly not a ton to base it off of, but so far the Sox have to like what they’ve seen from lefty Scott. Scott made his MLB debut last September for Boston, and did not give up a run over seven appearances (6.0 IP). This spring he has shown similar success, as Scott lead all Sox relievers in ERA with 0.77 – and that’s on a team-high 12 appearances, too.
Robbie Ross Jr. - Also returning and looking to improve on a solid 2016 is Ross Jr., one of three lefties in this bullpen, who finished 2016 with the second lowest WHIP of his career (1.27).
Joe Kelly - Kelly moved from the rotation to the bullpen last season, and he'll begin 2017 in the bullpen and most likely take on the setup role that Thornburg's injury left open. Kelly has shown flashes of dominance with a four-seam fastball that can touch the high 90's regularly, but has struggled with command over the years.
Matt Barnes - The 6-foot-4 Barnes has had an up-and-down career with Boston, but perhaps a strong spring training is a sign of things to come. In 9.2 innings, Barnes had an ERA of 0.93 with 13 strikeouts.
Fernando Abad – Abad had A-Very-Bad first go-around with the Sox last year, finishing with a 6.39 ERA in 18 appearances.
Ben Taylor – The rookie Taylor cracked the Opening Day roster as Boston’s eighth bullpen arm. He may or may not get a chance to prove himself during this stint before Drew Pomeranz is slated to come off the disabled list.