Over 20 relievers moved in the days and weeks leading up to the Major League Baseball trade deadline.
But the Boston Red Sox, a team that considered to be in dire need of bullpen help despite the fact that they sit 41 games above .500, did not acquire a single one of those available relievers. Instead, the Red Sox focused their efforts elsewhere and acquired starter Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays late last week, and added veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler late last night.
Speaking with reporters after the official close of the non-waiver trade market at Fenway Park on Tuesday, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski described their approach as simply valuing one need over the other.
“We improved our club in a lot of other directions, and we kept thinking, in our own internal conversations we had, we really felt the other areas of improvement were more significant for us,” Dombrowski, whose team sits six games ahead of the Yankees for first in the A.L. East entering Tuesday night, said. “So when we got Eovaldi, that was really the top for us to get a starter that we could slide in the bullpen if we needed to at a later time.”
Eovaldi was solid in his first start with the Red Sox, but Dombrowski knew that alone would not have been enough.
“We talked about bullpen or improving our defense at second base,” Dombrowski acknowledged. “We felt that second base was more important for us with the defensive aspect of it.”
And as already mentioned, the Red Sox obviously went ahead with that with the addition of the 36-year-old Kinsler.
But Dombrowski noted that the improved consistency of the Boston bullpen — largely thanks to the emergence of Ryan Brasier and Tyler Thornburg as viable options out late in games — as one of the reasons why he opted not to spend big on relief help.
Brasier has allowed just one run and five hits in 10 innings of work this season, and batters are hitting just .147 against him. Thornburg, meanwhile, has rebounded after a slight mechanical tweak, with five strikeouts and just one hit allowed over his last five appearances (4.1 innings of work). He’s dropped his batting average against from .368 to .250 over that span.
“Before the All-Star Game, we had said, “Let’s keep an eye on how our [relief] pitching progresses and how these guys progress,’” Dombrowski said. “And if they had not progressed as they have, then we may have very well flip-flopped [on trading for bullpen help], but we really liked the progress.”
For a Red Sox team that’s failed to make it out of the first round in back-to-back seasons, Dombrowski will have to hope that trust in a bullpen that’s taken on a survivalist mentality of sorts pays off when it matters most.