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While Yankees Improve Again, Red Sox Stay Content with Depleted Bullpen

January 18, 2019
Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski arrives for Thursday s 80th annual awards dinner of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Boston Chapter, at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston.

BOSTON -- The New York Yankees keep getting better while the Boston Red Sox continue to sit on their hands.

It’s not that the Sox didn’t do anything this offseason. Significant money was spent to re-sign World Series heroes Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi. But there have been no additions to the bullpen, no security options added at second base in case Dustin Pedroia can’t contribute, and the team has yet to lock up any of their core players to long-term contracts.

After the Yankees agreed with 33-year-old right-hander Adam Ottavino on a three-year deal reportedly worth $27 million on Thursday, giving the Yanks a dominant bullpen that also includes Dellin Betances and Zach Britton, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said, “I still don’t expect us to have a high expenditure in our closer situation.”

Craig Kimbrel is the only reliable reliever still on the market, with Cody Allen and Brad Brach representing two cheaper, riskier options if the Sox are intent on adding anybody to the bullpen.

Allen and Brach seem like the only options at this point. If the Sox weren’t willing to spend $7 million per year on Ottavino, who had a 2.43 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 77 2-3 innings with the Colorado Rockies last year, there’s little to suggest they’d be willing to spend double (or perhaps triple) that amount on Kimbrel.

“Well, we know him and his agent, we know him and talked to them,” said Dombrowski, speaking at the annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner on Thursday night. “Am I surprised he’s still out there? I guess I am because he’s a really good pitcher, but for whatever reason clubs have signed other players at that role. So, I am a little bit surprised.”

The Red Sox, in their eyes, won’t have the funds to make it happen. Dombrowski said he still hopes to stay under the highest luxury tax penalty, which kicks in at $246 million this year.

“We’re pretty close to that right now,” Dombrowski said. “We have some flexibility. But we don’t have a lot.”

Boston’s payroll is already around $237 for luxury tax purposes, according to Cots Baseball Contracts.

“Sometimes you have to evaluate where you’re going to spend your dollars,” Dombrowski said. “We decided to keep back the rest of the core of the club. We like our team a great deal and we think some of the guys internally can do the job. Can we get better? Perhaps. We’ll see what takes place in that regard.”

Without any sparkling additions, close games in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings this season could be handled by Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes and a collection of solid-but-unspectacular arms that the Sox have assembled.

Asked if he was surprised nobody has joined the bullpen, Brasier said, “Am I surprised? No. But did I think we would? I thought we would have. I try not to think about it. We can’t control it. Just go about it as we do.”

Manager Alex Cora and his new coaching staff were able to squeeze career years out of Brasier and Barnes in 2018. Not only would the Sox need them to repeat in 2019, but Cora must perform a similar magic act to get more out of peripheral arms like Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Bobby Poyner and knuckleballer Steven Wright, if his balky knee doesn’t cause him any more issues.

“One thing for sure, we do feel that there are certain guys that have to take a step forward,” Cora said. “And they will because of what we’re going to try to talk to them in spring training. Work, Hembree, very intriguing guys, Poyner, we know what he can do. (Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez), for whatever they did in the rotation, they got big outs anyways. So we’ll see.”

The Sox are also looking to Tyler Thornburg, who has been trying to revive his career following thoracic outlet syndrome, and low-key acquisition Colten Brewer as two pitchers who could emerge into starring roles.

“We’re interested to see how Thornburg does,” Dombrowski said. “He has been a closer and he has been a very good closer in the past. He is healthy. If he would come back and be the pitcher he was in the past, he is a guy who’s closed before.”

Boston’s lack of action in the bullpen has reminded Dombrowski that his club could be the underdogs in the American League East for a second consecutive year.

“I don’t remember hardly anybody picking us to win our division last year,” Dombrowski said. “Remember at the midseason, after the transactions, nobody picked us to win. I remember going into the postseason nobody picked us to win. Or very few in the very beginning. So it really doesn’t matter.”

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