The Boston Red Sox have a lot of question marks in both their lineup and starting rotation for the upcoming season; How will Oritz produce? Who will follow up Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Lester? Who will be the catcher on openning day? All of which are topics that could keep an enthusiastic baseball fan talking for hours.
I'm here to talk about something much less interesting, but not necissarily less important: The back end of the bullpen.
Last year 43 year old Mike Timlin, once the pivital set up man for Keith Foulke during the historic 2004 playoff run, singlehandedly lost several games for the Sox, not the least of which being an extra inning battle with the Tampa Bay Rays late in the season. A win in that game alone would have given the Red Sox a share of first place and at least a chance to play into home field advantage against those Rays, something that would have come in handy when playing game 7 of the ALCS.
While this may not be the thing on the minds of every Boston fan this off-season, there are several top-notch relievers on the market that won't have you sitting on the edge of you couch moaning, "oh no, not him" when he walks out of the bullpen doors:
Juan Cruz: 4-0, 2.61 ERA, 12.5 K's per 9 innings. Cruz had a breakout season with Arizona in 2008. He's relatively young (30) and his success in 2008 was his second successful season in a row out of the pen, which means he's not a one hit wonder. The only problem with this fireballer is that he likely to be pegged as a cheap closing option for teams with smaller payrolls and will get more money from those teams than the Sox are willing to shell out for a set-up guy.
Joe Beimel: 5-1, 2.20 ERA, 6 K's per 9 innings. This guys is possibly the best out there right now. Over the last 3 years he is has averaged a 4-1 record with a 2.95 ERA and 34Ks. The Sox have a few southpaws in the bullpen at the moment (Okajima and Lopez) but a team can neve have too many effective lefties. Because he does throw left handed, however, his price will be higher than a righty with those same stellar numbers.
Jeremy Affeldt: 1-1, 3.33 ERA 9 K's per 9 innings. Affeldt, after having a somewhat mediocre start to his career as a starter in Kansas City (ERA around 5 and a half), has posted a 3.41 ERA combined pitching in the bullpens of Colorado and Cincinnati the last two years. Again, Affeldt is going to be priced a little higher than a normal reliever with those numbers because he's a lefty, but his 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio might be worth the extra dough.
Keith Foulke: 0-3, 4.06 ERA. Just Kidding...
A couple other options the Red Sox might want to take a waiver on, but on a short term basis only because of their age (38 or older) are Russ Springer (2-1, 2.32), Doug Brocail (7-5, 2.93), Brian Shouse (5-1, 2.81).