For fans around the globe of the MLB, this offseason has gone by rather slowly thus far. But for Red Sox fans, it may be going by even slower.
The offseason started with a bang as postseason heroes Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi were re-signed to the Red Sox by the end of the first week in December. However, since then, the Red Sox haven’t really been doing their due diligence on the free agency market. Particularly in the bullpen.
Boston lost Joe Kelly to the Dodgers on a three-year, $25 million contract just one week after the Red Sox announced the re-signing of Eovaldi. Kelly was undoubtedly the most dominant force in the Red Sox bullpen, and arguably the whole pitching staff, not allowing an earned run in the World Series, nor walking anybody throughout the entire postseason. Combine that with the uncertainty about Craig Kimbrel’s future with the team in terms of whether or not he’ll re-sign, and the Red Sox are stuck with an incomplete bullpen.
But it seems as if Dave Dombrowski likes the direction the Red Sox relievers are going in as we move closer to the day pitchers and catchers report. On ESPN’s Baseball Tonight Podcast with Buster Olney, Boston’s president of baseball operations said he doesn’t really plan to make any more signings at the Major League level.
“I mean, I would gather that if we did anything they would be bullpen-oriented,” said Dombrowski.
So for those who are really pushing for Craig Kimbrel to return, there still is hope — but not much. Dombrowski later alluded to the possibility of signing players to minor league contracts, with big league camp invites this spring. He has already made a handful of minor league deals with the likes of Zach Putnam and Carson Smith.
Who could be next, though? Just because a couple of guys have some serious MLB roster potential from a minor league deal, that doesn’t mean Dombrowski can hit on every move. However, there still are some solid arms on the market, that might not garner a big-league contract based on recent performance.
Tomlin has had a career of being good, not great. Last year was an exception as he was neither, posting a 6.14 ERA over the course of 32 appearances (9 starts). That being said, Tomlin can provide a role similar to that of Hector Velasquez or Brian Johnson should he be signed by Boston –– making spot starts and giving multiple innings of relief some nights. He had a really underwhelming 2018, but overall he’s had a very solid MLB career. He’s just three years removed from having a ground ball rate of 43.8 percent, so there’s still a chance he could get back to that.
Capps has been riddled with injuries over the course of the past couple of seasons, but he’s a guy who is ultra-deceptive on the mound. Not that he has anything out of the ordinary in terms of his pitching arsenal, it’s his mechanics that make hitters uncomfortable at the plate when he’s pitching.
Don’t get lost in the analysis of his mechanics. Watch the at-bat from Christian Bethancourt to open the video. Capps starts him with a 98 MPH fastball, then back-to-back devastating sliders put him away on three pitches.
Capps hasn’t played in the MLB since he posted a 6.57 ERA and a 4.62 FIP in 12.1 innings over 11 outings with the Padres in 2017. So this would be a bit of a flyer taken by Dombrowski to bring him in. That being said, it’s only on a minor league deal. This is a low-risk, high-reward situation.
What separates Feliz from the previous two is the fact he has closing experience in the major leagues. He was once regarded as one of the best closers in baseball. But since the end of 2014, the right-hander from the Dominican Republic has been anything but automatic.
Much like Capps, Feliz didn’t throw a pitch at the MLB level in 2018. He was stuck with the Reno Aces, the AAA affiliate for the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 37 outings, he posted an ERA of 4.81 and a 1.52 WHIP.
Normally when MLB talent gets stashed in the minor leagues for one reason or another, they tend to pitch a little better. That can’t be said for Feliz. But his track record indicates that there is definitely some talent there, he just has to dig deep and find it at this point; because when he was on his game, he was electric for the Texas Rangers — even on the biggest of stages.
If Dombrowski stays true to his word, this could very well be the direction the Red Sox move forward in. He and Alex Cora have expressed confidence in the likes of Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier to close games next season, with a handful of notorious middle relievers backing them up. With that in mind, there are some quality arms left and some might not get a major league deal — thus opening the door for Dave Dombrowski to work some magic.