Could Clay Buchholz Be A Bullpen Solution for Red Sox?

Clay BuchholzThe primary need the Red Sox have to address this offseason is obviously the hole in the bullpen left after Joe Kelly signed with the Dodgers. They’ve been rumored to be in the mix for big name relievers like David Robertson, but going after one of the pitchers not on the national radar could be a potential option. While it’d come with some extra risk, going after Clay Buchholz might be the solution for the Red Sox.

His season unfortunately ended in the middle of September after he was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his forearm, but Buchholz had a bounce back season in 2018 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He threw for a 2.01 ERA and 1.032 WHIP while striking out 81 over 98.1 innings. Not only were his stats improved, but Richard Morin of the Arizona Republic wrote an article saying the 34 year old was a lot more consistent and appeared to be stronger mentally.

With that being said, Buchholz has definitely struggled with inconsistency over the years. Back in June of 2016, for instance, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald wrote that “so far out of relief, Buchholz has been good, solid, and disappointing, all within in his first two appearances.” These comments came right after he had given up four runs to the Orioles during a 3.1 inning out.

But it’s not like he was consistently bad. He hadn’t given up any runs during the first two innings of the aforementioned appearance and had blanked the Blue Jays during an inning long outing a few days before. The right hander simply seemed to implode after Dustin Pedroia made an error on what should have been a routine double play ball.

That ability to implode after what should have been a relatively minor setback is what people remember about Buchholz’s time with Boston. Even after a successful season with Arizona, people have claimed he “can’t pitch for large markets” like Boston or “handle the pressure of a heavy sports town.” This might be the truth, but it might be worth taking a risk on him since he’s not one of the big names being heavily targeted and could therefore be signed for less money.

The strong and consistent comeback season should make the Red Sox strongly consider bringing Buchholz back to Boston. Since the righty seemed to prove himself last year, the main source of concern shouldn’t be his consistency but his history of injury. As mentioned before, his season ended early last year due to a partial flexor tare in his right forearm and he also missed most of 2017 after needing surgery to address a similar injury.

Perhaps the other thing worth noting is that Buchholz spent most of last year as a starter and that might have played a role in why he was more consistent. He does have a fair amount of experience working out of the bullpen, however, and could be a good contender for a long relief spot.

In the end, pursuing Buchholz could also play into Boston’s overall strategy. Some of the higher ups in the Red Sox organization have expressed an interest in not making any big moves until everybody knows where Craig Kimbrel will be spending 2019 (and potentially beyond). Unlike some of the big names being discussed this offseason, the former Red Sox might still be available after that potentially late point in the offseason. So while it might not be the most obvious path to take, bringing in Buchholz might be the right move for Boston.

Red Sox Still in the Mix for David Robertson

As most of Red Sox Nation is waiting for Boston to sure up their bullpen for next year, people like Mark Feinsand are reporting “the Red Sox are still in the mix for free-agent reliever David Robertson.” Jason Veritek’s wife, Catherine, even sent out a tweet suggesting the right handed reliever is coming to Boston and the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry will have a little extra spice to it next year.

This can only be interpreted as positive news as Boston’s been showing a strong interest in him since early on in the offseason, but they’ll have to make a big push soon if they want to sign him. If they sit back and wait to see what Craig Kimbrel does like some executives have been saying they might, they could easily see Robertson go elsewhere.

Despite dispatches from Yankee territory suggesting the Red Sox didn’t think Robertson wanted to come to Boston, most pundits agree the interest is mutual but there are several teams remain in the mix. It shouldn’t be surprising other clubs are interest because the Phillies have shown interest in bringing him to town and the Yankees might bring him back as they could use some help filling in their bullpen for next year. With at least three teams in the mix, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Robertson is simply trying to ensure he gets the best deal possible.

The major hang up for the 33 year old is that he’s looking for a three year contract, but most teams are only willing to give him two (reports suggest the Red Sox fall into this category). Based on a successful 2018 season where he ended up with a 1.03 WHIP and 3.23 ERA while striking out 91 and giving up 30 runs (25 of them earned) over the course of 69.2 innings, however, three years isn’t too much to ask if teams can get him to commit to a reasonable salary (he made $13 million in 2018 and has averaged $11.5 million per season since 2015).

It’s worth noting that a cursory scan of his stats from last year appear to be better than those put up by Joe Kelly, who the Dodgers signed to a three year deal with an option for a fourth earlier this month. Kelly is guaranteed $25 million over those three years and could receive upwards of $33 million if he hits all the incentives included, so Robertson’s demands are reasonable and should definitely be considered by the Red Sox.

As all these discussions are taking place, Boston’s geographic location might come into play. Robertson currently makes his offseason home with his family in Rhode Island and is rumored to want to sign with a team located close by. Rhode Island obviously isn’t far away from Boston and, for what it’s worth, is even home to the Red Sox’s triple-A affiliate. This could prove to be an advantage if it becomes clear nobody’s willing to sign him to more than two years.

With all that being said, the major factor still seems to be whether or not Boston will move forward with a big signing before they know what Craig Kimbrel will do.

Manny Machado Wanted to Play for Red Sox or Yankees

Although Manny Machado said he won’t announce who he’s signing with until after the new year, there’s still a lot of chatter about where he’ll end up. The latest development comes as Fancred’s Jon Heyman reported a few days ago that a baseball executive claims the superstar wants to return to the AL East — preferably to the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.

“I think he ends up in New York,” one rival exec says. “He wanted to be with the Yankees or Red Sox. We’ve known that for a while. And it’s not going to be Boston.”

This isn’t completely out of the blue as the Red Sox were reportedly in discussions with the Baltimore Orioles last offseason about a trade that would bring Machado to Boston. The discussions could have taken place in part because Boston’s Dave Dombrowski and Dan Duquette (who was Baltimore’s GM at the time) have a relationship that dates back to their time with the Montreal Expos three decades ago, but even that relationship didn’t allow them to amount to anything in the long run.

With that being said, it’s fairly obvious that Machado can scratch Boston off his list of potential destinations. Not only have the Red Sox shown little interest in him this offseason and weren’t among the three finalists he met with, but he’s had some public spats with Boston’s players and fans.

He got a lot of heat, for instance, for sliding hard into Dustin Pedroia at second base during a game down in Baltimore back in April of 2017. Pedroia brushed it off and said “it’s baseball, man” in a postgame interview, but folks like manager John Farrell had a much stronger reaction to the move. The situation didn’t get any better when he went off on the Red Sox the next month during a postgame interview with a media scrum that had to be bleeped several times when it aired on TV and the radio.

Machado further added to the feud when he spiked first baseman Steve Pearce during the bottom of the ninth in game four of the 2018 World Series (this was one of the few times he decided to be “Johnny Hustle” and run down the first baseline). He claimed it was unintentional and that he’s “almost best friends” with Pearce, but the move definitely stirred up a lot of emotion among both fans and players.

On the other side of things, the Yankees appear to be a real possibility for Machado. They had a 90 minute meeting with him on Wednesday (and reportedly took his family out to dinner that night), can afford to pay the huge contract he’ll demand, and have consistently been among the teams wanting to sign him. On top of that, Machado grew up a Yankees fan and managing partner Hal Steinbrenner was quick to say questions about his attitude could be easily be settled with a simple conversation during the interview process.

A lot of pundits were already saying Machado was leaning towards going to New York and this new tidbit of information seems to lend credibility to those claims. As Robert Bradford of WEEI recently pointed out, him going to New York would have the benefit of giving Red Sox fans someone to hate on the Yankees. So with all that in mind, smart money is on him joining the Evil Empire and Red Sox fans should be perfectly content with it.

Red Sox Avoid Arbitration With Heath Hembree

With so much attention being given to who the Red Sox might pursue for late inning help in their bullpen, it appears as though they’re quietly making some moves to ensure they have some depth among their relief corps. The latest example of this came as the organization avoided arbitration with Heath Hembree today by signing him to a one year deal worth $1.3 million.

While Hembree’s unlikely to ever be a All-Star caliber pitcher, he did appear in 67 games last year while pitching to a 4.20 ERA while striking out 76 batters over the course of 60 innings and having a 1.33 WHIP. Having said that, folks were originally optimistic about Hembree’s chances of being an impact pitcher during 2018 but he never really emerged as a late inning powerhouse and usually appeared in the sixth or seventh inning where he was tasked with maintaining a multi-run lead.

The 29 year old (he’ll turn 30 in January) didn’t even originally make it onto the postseason roster. It was only after knuckleballer Steven Wright suffered a knee injury that Hembree was activated for Boston’s playoff run. Nevertheless, he did pitch 4.2 innings in four games during the 2018 postseason and didn’t give up any hits or runs (though he walked five batters) while striking out three.

In addition to only putting up middle of the road stats, Hembree isn’t exactly a fan favorite online. One person recently took to twitter, for instance, to sarcastically say he can’t wait for him to have “a 5 ERA while we lose Ottavino to the Yankees and he wins the Cy Young and Miller joins the Phillies or something and pitches to a 1.80 ERA.” Ranch Wilder even added that he’s willing “to leave [his] family in order to never see Heath Hembree throw another pitch in a Red Sox uniform.”

A lot of this frustration comes from people being upset that the Red Sox haven’t been more active in the search for a big name reliever on the free agent market. There are some reports saying they’ll wait to see what Craig Kimbrel ends up doing before making a serious move, which is very risky since most pundits agree Kimbrel could be a last minute signing wherever he ends up. Waiting that long could cause Boston to be stuck with a bunch of midlevel relievers like Hembree and few better options to bring to town.

It’s also worth noting that Hembree is out of options, which means the Red Sox won’t be able to send him to Pawtucket without him going through waivers. And while he’s not a superstar, there’d likely be some other teams who try to pick him up off the waiver wire. That could play a role in how executives manage their roster if someone becomes available as time progresses.

All in all, this isn’t a bad move as going through the arbitration process could have ended up costing the Red Sox a fair amount of money and he isn’t a horrible mid-inning reliever. But they certainly cannot use keeping Hembree in Boston as an excuse not to active pursue other relievers.

Joe Kelly Signs With LA Dodgers

Joe Kelly will forever be in the hearts of Red Sox fans as he struck out the side in the eighth inning during the World Series clincher this year. He’s also gained some lighthearted attention for his national anthem standoff with Scott Van Slyke of the Dodgers when he was with the Cardinals. But he’s no longer going to be in Boston as he’s signed a three year contract with the Dodgers worth $25 million.

When Kelly first came to the Red Sox back in 2014 he was used as a starter, but transitioned over to the bullpen starting in 2017. Since that move, he’s been able to use a knuckle curve and low spin rate fastball to keep batters on their toes and limiting homeruns by having a lot of folks only hit grounders.

While he’s produced decent numbers during the regular season (he had a .5 WAR with 68 strikeouts over 65.2 innings and a 1.355 WHIP in 2018), it’s the postseason that likely allowed him to get a large contract. He only gave up two runs during the 2018 championship run (both in the ALCS and only one was earned) and eight hits in 11.1 innings. He also struck out 13 of the 44 batters he faced during the postseason, with 10 of those strikeouts coming during the World Series.

There are plenty of reasons why players decide to sign with a new team, especially after their current one just won the World Series. It appears as though length of contract was a big one for Kelly as he’s said the Dodgers were the only team to offer him a three year deal and that’s where he ended up going. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that his offseason home is 45 minutes away from Dodgers Stadium and the move would put him with another historic organization that’s a World Series contender.

It’s never fun for fans to see someone like Kelly leave the organization — especially after role he played in the playoffs — but most folks understand his decision to leave and wish him well. The obvious result of Kelly’s departure, however, is that Boston will need to find someone to replace him — something that could become even more complicated if Craig Kimbrel ends up leaving town.

Adam Ottavino spent last year with the Colorado Rockies and is one potential pickup for Boston. He’s produced decent numbers and definitely has a lot of confidence as he recently said he “would strike Babe Ruth out every time.” The quote was given in the middle of a discussion about how Ottavino thinks the game’s changed over the years and Ruth might not do as well in general, but it still says a lot about his confidence.

David Robertson is another potential relief pitcher the Red Sox could go after. He spent last year with the New York Yankees and had 91 strike outs over 69.2 innings while holding batters to a .183 average and a 1.033 WHIP. Plus, he could potentially come at a bargain price as he’s serving as his own agent.

There are a few other names out there to consider, but the clear message is Kelly’s departure isn’t devastating for Boston’s chances in 2019. They’ll simply have to act decisively and make sure to secure someone who can produce.