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Finding a Closer for the Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have been difficult to watch. From a horrible West Coast trip, where the team opened the season by going 3-8 before playing a single game at Fenway Park, to Chris Sale’s 3-7 record and unusually high 3.82 ERA, this season has been inconsistent and rough. One of the largest issues has been the bullpen. After Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly left for free agency, the Red Sox were fearful of overstepping the league’s luxury tax. They tried to fill the holes by using what they already had and prospects within the organization.

That experiment hasn’t gone well so far. The bus to and from AAA Pawtucket has been working overtime, with minor league pitchers shuffling back and forth between the leagues. The Red Sox have experimented with different arms and different approaches to the bullpen, and not a lot has worked. One of the more glaring issues has been the lack of a defined closer: The last three outs of a game, especially with a slim lead, are often the toughest outs to get. A specialist is needed to seal the victory, which the team just doesn’t have right now.

In 33 save opportunities this season, the Red Sox have only converted seventeen of them. That’s a save percentage of 52%, well below the league average of 65%. The team currently ranks 29th in save percentage. The New York Mets are the only team to blow more, saving only 49% of their games. That’s awful by any standard, but considering that the Red Sox just won a championship, it’s simply atrocious. With a record of 44-38, 3rd in the American League East, It’s also unsustainable.

If the Red Sox have any hopes of making the postseason, let alone defending their title, they need a closer. For that, here is a list of seven targets the team could trade for before the deadline. These men are “dominant” in the ninth inning, and they represent possible trade pieces for their teams.

For a simpler, cleaner list with relevant stats, please scroll down to the Stats Table.

Alex Colomé, RHP – Chicago White Sox

Colomé is from the Dominican Republic. In January 2019, he signed a one-year, $7,325,000 contract with the Chicago White Sox. In 31 innings this year, he is 3-1 with a 2.32 ERA, a 4.22 FIP, and a 0.710 WHIP. He has also accumulated 25 strikeouts. Colomé, in seven seasons, has a career WAR of 6.8. Through June 2019 alone, he has already posted 1.1 WAR. If he keeps up his pace throughout the year, he could match or surpass his season-high of 2.3 WAR, which he reached in 2016. This year, he has saved 16 games in 17 opportunities, a 94% save percentage.

The White Sox, as of this writing, are 37-41, 3rd in the AL Central and 6.5 out of a Wild Card spot. If they decided to sell their assets and start a rebuild, Colomé would be a useful trade piece. That one-year contract would be valuable to the Red Sox, as Colomé would be free to go back to free agency at the end of the season.

Alex Colomé’s WAR projections could be of interest to any team in need of a closer.

Shane Greene, RHP – Detroit Tigers

Greene spent 2014, his rookie year, with the New York Yankees. They sent him to the Tigers as part of a three-way trade to nab shortstop Didi Gregorius, and he has stayed in Detroit ever since. In 2019, he too signed a one-year contract, worth $4,000,000. In 30 innings this season, he is 0-2 with a 0.90 ERA, a 3.48 FIP, and an 0.867 WHIP. He has struck out 30 hitters, and with 1.2 WAR, has already exceeded his total career WAR. Greene has saved 21 games in 22 opportunities, a 95% save rate.

Detroit, with a record of 26-50, is in a far worse position than the White Sox. They’re the second worst team in the majors by record. They have no hope of winning the AL Central or making a Wild Card spot, so expect Greene to be traded at some point this season. The Red Sox have good ties to the Tigers as Dave Dombrowski, the President of Baseball Operations, is an ex-Tiger. In addition, current Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello also used to be a Tiger. Perhaps that will lead to cooperation and a trade deal between the clubs.

Brad Hand, LHP – Cleveland Indians

A league veteran since 2011, Hand pitched for the Marlins and Padres before joining the Indians. In 2018, he signed a three-year, $19,750,000 contract with the Padres, which the Indians took on when they traded for him. His contract expires in 2021. This year, Hand is 4-3 in 34.1 innings with a 2.36 ERA, a 1.90 FIP, and a 0.932 WHIP. With an impressive 50 strikeouts, his SO/9 sits at 13.1. He has saved 22 of 23 games, a 96% save rate.

Cleveland is currently in second place in the AL Central, with a record of 44-36, only 0.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. While they still lag 8.0 games behind the first place Twins, they’re in a much better position than the Tigers or White Sox. For this reason, trading for Hand is unlikely as long as Cleveland believes they have a chance at making the postseason.

Will Smith, LHP – San Francisco Giants

Will Smith played with the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers before he joined the Giants in 2019. Like Colomé, he signed a one-year contract, worth $4,225,000. In 32.33 innings this year, he is 1-0 with a 1.95 ERA, a 2.01 FIP, and a 0.742 WHIP. He’s accumulated 49 strikeouts in those 32.33 innings, good for an SO/9 of 13.6. He has already matched his season-high 1.0 WAR, and he has a career 3.3 WAR in seven seasons. To top it off, Smith is the only closer, with more than 5 opportunities, to record a 100% save rate. He has saved 21 games in 21 opportunities.

The Giants, with a record of 34-45, are dead last in the National League West. Many clubs are interested in trading for ace Madison Bumgarner, and if he goes, it’s fair to say that more will follow. Smith will be on the radar of more than a few teams in need of relievers, and a bidding war might be in the Giants’ immediate future.

With a 1.95 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 13.6 SO/9, and a perfect save percentage, Smith epitomizes excellence, creating good trade value for himself and the San Francisco Giants.

Felipe Vázquez, LHP – Pittsburgh Pirates

Vázquez started his career in 2015 with the Washington Nationals, until he was traded to the Pirates one year later. In January 2018, he signed a four-year, $22,500,000 contract with Pittsburgh, which expires in 2023. In 33 innings, he is 1-0 with a 1.91 ERA, 2.37 FIP, and 1.091 WHIP. Like Hand and Smith, his strikeouts are impressive. Vázquez has retired 51 batters, which is good for an SO/9 of 13.9. He has 1.1 WAR already this season, although he has always been steady WAR-wise. In 20 opportunities, Vázquez has saved 19, a 95% save rate.

The Pirates are 38-41, 4th in the National League Central, although they’re only four games out of a Wild Card spot. Trading for him could prove to be difficult if the Pirates believe they have a chance at making the postseason.

Sean Doolittle, LHP – Washington Nationals

Another veteran, Doolittle played with the Oakland Athletics before joining the Nationals in 2017. In 2015, while still with the A’s, he signed a five-year, $10,500,000 contract. Earlier this year, the Nationals exercised a $6,000,000 option, with another $6,500,000 option for 2020. In 32.0 innings this season, Doolittle has gone 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA, a 2.81 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.281. He has struck out 39 batters. He has saved 17 games in 20 opportunities, an 85% save rate.

The Nationals are third in the National League East with a record of 39-40. The club is 3.0 games out of a Wild Card berth. Like the Pirates and Indians, the Nationals might hold off on stripping the team for parts until they’re certain a postseason spot is out of reach. Add in the club options, and it seems the Nationals are invested in him for the immediate future.

Kirby Yates, RHP – San Diego Padres

Yates has been in the league since 2014. He played with the Rays, Yankees, and Los Angeles Angels before joining the Padres. Earlier this year, he signed a 1-year, $3,062,500 deal with the Padres. In 33 innings, he is 0-2 with a 1.36 ERA, 1.31 FIP, and a WHIP of 0.909. He has struck out an incredible 54 hitters, giving him the highest SO/9 rate(14.7) of any closer listed here. In his first three years in the league, he posted -0.1 WAR. In 2018, however, he posted 2.0 WAR. So far this year, he has posted 1.2 WAR. Clearly, he figured something out last year, and has become one of the dominant closers in the game. He leads the majors in saves this year, successfully converting 26 of 27 opportunities, a 96% save rate.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are dominating the National League, and the National League West in particular. The Padres are 40-40, tied for third with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are 41-41. Most of the National League West, minus the Giants, are in a Wild Card hunt, which presents the same hurdle as the Pirates, Indians, and Nationals.

Kirby Yates has a ridiculous 14.7 SO/9, and has saved more games than anybody in the majors this year.

Stats Table

Name – TeamIPW-LERA – FIPSO – SO/9SV – SVOpp
Alex Colomé – CWS31.03-12.32 – 4.2225 – 7.316 – 17
Shane Greene – DET30.00-20.90 – 3.4830 – 9.021 – 22
Brad Hand – CLE34.14-32.36 – 1.9050 – 13.122 – 23
Will Smith – SFG32.11-01.95 – 2.0149 – 13.621 – 21
Felipe Vázquez – PIT33.01-01.91 – 2.3751 – 13.919 – 20
Sean Doolittle – WSH32.04-23.09 – 2.8139 – 10.617 – 20
Kirby Yates – SDP33.00-21.36 – 1.3154 – 14.726 – 27

Decision Time

With the data neatly organized, it’s much easier to see who stands out and who doesn’t. Now it’s time to answer the question: who should the Red Sox bring in to get the 9th?

The answer is Smith. He boasts an impressive FIP, and that SO/9 is very nice. While Vázquez and Yates have higher SO/9s, and Yates has a far lower FIP and ERA, both he and Vázquez are on teams that aren’t totally out of Wild Card hunts just yet. Plus, Smith is left-handed. Of the eight relievers listed on the Red Sox depth chart, seven are righties, and a dominant lefty could really bring some pop back to the bullpen. All of this, plus that perfect save percentage, makes Smith stand out as the top target. To top it all off, he is on a team-friendly deal: 1 year, $4,225,000. If Dombrowski is worried about crossing the luxury tax, here’s an ideal candidate. He is dominant, with a light contract, on a club that has no hope of contending. He’s perfect.

If Smith’s numbers are this impressive, it’s possible there will be more than a few teams interested in the lefty. If a bidding war were to occur, and the Red Sox lost, they would have to look elsewhere. Yates is the second-best option. Numbers-wise, he is a better choice than Smith, and he’s on an even friendlier, $3,062,500 deal. However, it should be easier to convince the Giants to drop Smith in exchange for prospects and a few mediocre relievers, as the Padres already have one of the best farm systems in the majors, and a decent relief core.

Smith should be the closer for the Boston Red Sox. If they nab him quickly, he could be the missing link. Last year, it was JD Martinez who made it all possible. This year, it could be Will Smith.

By Red Sox Tom

Follow me on Twitter @PrimeJD

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Red Sox Tom
Tom is a fan of the Sox and the Patriots. He loves watching Xander Bogaerts, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, and Tom Brady. You can find him on Twitter @PrimeJD.
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