Despite thumping the Twins 11-2 last night, the Red Sox remain an underwhelming 6-10 on the season. The offense seems to be coming to life behind the surprising double threat of Cody Ross (.283/.350/.623) and Mike Aviles (.333/.365/.567) as well as the usual suspects David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia even while Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis offer very little in the early going. This may not be the best offense in baseball this year, but it won’t be too far away come the end of the year.
The real issue so far has clearly been the pitching and the bullpen in particular. First the good: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz should, health permitting as always, be a comfortably above average front three even if Buchholz has looked below his best so far this year. At the back of the rotation, Felix Doubront has exceeded just about all expectations so far but there should be understanable skepticism over whether he can keep this up.
Now the bad. Daniel Bard has been wildly unpredictable in the rotation and the bullpen has been a mess, with the sole exception of Scott Atchison. Now Atchison can throw strikes with the best of them but if he’s your most reliable reliever then your bullpen situation is untenable. Alfredo Aceves is better suited to be a multi-inning reliever than he is a closer and likely won’t last the year in the role even if Andrew Bailey never makes it back as an effective option. Franklin Morales, Matt Albers and Junichi Tazawa have the potential to be useful relief arms but probably not a great deal more than that. Justin Thomas shouldn’t be anywhere near a major league roster. Vincente Padilla is as frustrating and enigmatic as ever.
Solutions to the relief mess are available to the Red Sox and they don’t include radical April trades. Mark Melancon is down at Triple-A working out his early season issues and should return to be a solid enough reliever at some point in the not too distant future. Also on the farm is prospect Alex Wilson who has recently been converted to the pen and has the sort of fastball/slider repertoire that could help him make a success of the role. The Triple-A Pawtucket roster also features Rich Hill and Aaron Cook who are both making strides in rediscovering health and form. The latter may even assist with the moving of Bard back to the pen if his opt out date of May 1st can be pushed back a little. If the team want to look externally, Mike Gonzalez is still unsigned and could be with a new team in the next week or so and back in the bigs a fortnight or so after that. Bailey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are both due back later in the year.
The options are there for the Red Sox to address their most glaring weakness. Not all of them will work out as quality MLB pitchers but the options are numerous enough that an improved relief corps should be attainable in short time. The team has been poor in a couple of areas this year, but the bullpen is both the only real disaster and the easiest to address. The majority of personnel, and I include Bobby Valentine in this despite his poor bullpen management on a couple of occasions this year, were seen by the front office as the best and most appropriate options 16 games ago and it is should be very hard to dissuade intelligent baseball professionals that those decisions were wrong after just a couple of weeks worth of games. If the team are scrapping to get to .500 by the All Star break this discussion becomes much more pertinent, but for now those that were entrusted with key roles should be given the chance to perform up to their reputations while possible replacements for those without the same track records can be sought without breaking up what is still a very good team.