Next Year’s bullpen

What should next year’s bullpen look like?

CLOSER

Keith FoulkeThis says all you need to know about Foulke. Foulke should have no problem putting up great numbers again next year and has the added confidence of being a star. Foulke is, for the first time, very famous and a star. Knowing Foulke, he will have no problem of adjusting to the even bigger stage that he will be asked to perform upon.

SET-UP MEN

Mike Timlin – Timlin will be 39 next year and be asked to be effective in a set-up role all year as opposed to this year, when Scott Williamson anchored the set-up role for the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, there are no real good prospects on the free agency list, and I think Dotel would command too much money should he suddenly price himself out of the Athletics’ range, too much for the Sox to justify going after him.

Alan Embree – Embree is going to be 35. Our set-up corps is going to be old, and we really need to find a way to find people to plug into these roles when Timlin and Embree get hurt and/or retire. This is probably the troublespot next year. This is why I am such an advocate of trading Kevin Millar as opposed to Doug Mientkiewicz. While that is a topic for another day, I am hopeful that in a trade, we can get a good reliever. Perhaps now that Francona used Timlin and Embree correctly in the playoffs, he’ll be able to get more out of Embree and Timlin. The fact remains is that next year, the Red Sox bullpen outside of Foulke is not exactly awe-inspiring. Kevin Millar for Lance Carter and a player to be named later, anyone?

MIDDLE RELIEF

Lenny DiNardo – The Boston Red Sox declined the $1.25 million option on pitcher Curtis Leskanic and gave the right-hander a $100,000 buyout Monday. He was decent enough, but there are relievers by the boatload out there who can do what Leskanic does, and one name I want to submit is Lenny DiNardo. Not only is he a lefty (bonus!) but he did pretty well as a Rule Five pickup, 27.2 IP with a 4.23 ERA. And not only that, he fares better against righties (1.55 WHIP .291 BAA) than against lefties (1.83 WHIP, .314 BAA). He is a cheap alternative, and we have him. Why not use him?

Brandon Puffer – When Puffer was 26, he had a 4.43 ERA in 69 innings for Houston. For whatever reason, he was not given much of a chance the year after in the majors despite posting a sub-3.00 ERA in AAA. This year, in 18 innings for San Diego, he posted a 5.50 ERA, then went to AAA and in 32.1 IP, had a 3.34 ERA. He was traded to the Red Sox mid-season and in 31 IP for Pawtucket had a 3.26 ERA with 10 saves. I think Puffer would also be a low-cost, effective addition. Why have Leskanic when you can have Puffer?

Mike Myers – The quintessial lefty specialist who always appears in many games. This year, he had the most games since 2000, appearing in 75 G. I would bring him back for another year, as he looked pretty good for the Red Sox.

WHAT ELSE?

This bullpen, while cost-effective, (allowing us to focus on other positions) is not exactly a bullpen we would put our trust in, ala Anaheim’s bullpen. It seems like our bullpen is built for the playoffs, however. Nonetheless, I would also sign three people to minor-league contracts, hoping to perhaps strike gold with one of the three.

Billy Koch – Koch was released from the Marlins and as early as two years ago, had 44 saves. He was traded to Chicago (for Foulke) and dissapointed in 53 IP, posting a 5.77 ERA. The White Sox brought him back in 2004, hoping he would regain his form. Uh, no. 23.1 IP, 5.40 ERA. He was then traded to Florida, where he achieved some measure of respectability. 25.2 IP, 3.51 ERA, and an 8.77 K/9. He could end up being an important cog in the Sox bullpen if he can stay to his 2004 Marlins form.

Ben Weber – Wow. Ben Weber … as a 32 and 33 year old in 2002 and 2003, respectively, he had 68.1 and then 78.0 IP, posting sub 2.70 ERAs in both! What happened this year? A 8.06 ERA in 22.1 IP in the majors, and 8.64 ERA in 16.2 IP in AAA? Wow. According to Jeff Howe, League of Angels, he had tendonitis in either his elbow or forearm, and then carpal tunnel syndrome. If we can sign him, and rehab him back to his old self … there you have it, another middle reliever. He will be 35, so he’s not a long-term stopgap, but he could get the job done for two or three more years.

Scott Williamson – Williamson is an incumbent Red Sox who just underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time. Not many people make it back, but the Sox know how valuable Williamson was. I can see Williamson inking a two-year contract with a team option for the third. The first year, he makes the league minimum. The second year, he makes about $1 million with incentives, the option is $3 million. It would be a shame not to extend an olive branch to Williamson out of goodwill … and out of a hope he can regain his old form, and if not, at least prove to be good in a middle relief role. Please note that Williamson would only be available for 2006, not ’05, as he is out for ’05.

BASICALLY…

The bullpen is old. We don’t have any great relievers other than Keith Foulke. This is a very weak free-agent crop when it comes to relievers, so Theo can’t really do much aside from a trade. There’s a lot of “ifs” here, I know … but imagine a healthy Ben Weber, a Lance Carter type reliever acquired in a trade, plugged in with said group (with Puffer and DiNardo out). Then imagine a back to form Billy Koch. A lot of risks, but if even one of these risks pan out, we’re better off than before. We won without much of a bullpen, we can’t keep doing that. Trust in Theo … but the one thing he has yet to do is assemble a powerful bullpen. It doesn’t look as if he will be able to again next year, but perhaps if he takes the steps I have outlined, we can get a little closer … and a LOT closer should Koch and Weber transport themselves to two years ago.