One thing the last two postseasons have shown is having a strong bullpen is huge in October.
Andrew Miller practically willed the Indians into the World Series, just a year after the Royals had won the World Series in large part thanks to Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, who combined for 1 earned run in 23 2/3 innings. That’s not mentioning Luke Hochevar’s 10 2/3 scoreless innings, along with the absence of then-injured All-Star closer Greg Holland (who’s also a free agent reliever).
But before Kansas City’s staff and Miller’s unhittable slider was now former San Francisco Giants reliever Sergio Romo -- with his own wipeout breaking ball.
“I’ve had teams called that I’m happy about and I’m excited about and somewhat surprised,” Romo said in his Tuesday interview. “And other teams that I figured would be calling, I haven’t gotten a call yet.”
The 2013 All-Star has served as both a reliever and a closer for the Giants and is battle-tested in the postseason, logging 23 1/3 career innings in the playoffs. In fact, he’s spread six of those innings across all three of San Francisco’s World Series titles since 2010 -- all of which are scoreless.
Romo’s major drawback? He battled a flexor strain throughout 2016, which was also the beginning of the end for Carson Smith’s 2016 campaign in Boston. But Romo hasn’t had an injury-plagued career, only making two other trips to the DL in nine seasons -- both 15-day stints.
However, it didn’t affect Romo’s 2016 numbers, logging a 2.64 WHIP, 1.08 WHIP and a 9.68 K/9.
Romo’s not a fireballer either, generally relying on a fastball that doesn’t break 90, but has great movement. Plus, it compliments his slider well, which is his best pitch. He has seen his average fastball velocity decline since 2011 at 89.5 to 85.9 MPH in 2016, but, once again, his numbers were still good.
But forget the numbers or the postseason experience.
Romo is a fit in Boston because he’s flexible.
He can close. He can set-up. He can pitch in pretty much any scenario.
That’s not to say he’ll do what Miller did this postseason over a 162-game span -- not even Miller could do that. But he could close on a night where Craig Kimbrel can’t, he can set-up when Smith -- or someone else -- isn’t setting up, or work some other inning.
Then, if the Red Sox make the postseason, he’ll provide the team with a flexible option -- similar to Koji Uehara in 2013 before being named closer.
Romo gives John Farrell and the Red Sox options, and is definitely someone Dave Dombrowski should consider while bolstering his bullpen this offseason.
Beginning Tuesday, free agents can begin signing with teams, marking the official start of baseball's offseason.
This one figures to have far fewer dramatic moves than last year, when, among other moves, the Red Sox handed out the biggest contact in team history (David Price) and landed a front-line closer (Craig Kimbrel) in exchange for two of their best prospects.
Which isn't to suggest there aren't significant needs for the 2017 Red Sox.
To begin with, they must somehow find a replacement for the irreplaceable David Ortiz.
Upgrades would also be welcome in the bullpen, and perhaps, the starting rotation, though the latter is more likely to come via trade with such a thin free-agent market.
A look at the needs and some potential targets/solutions:
Let's state the obvious: Ortiz can't be fully replaced. The combination of his consistent production, ability to deliver in the clutch and his leadership skills make him a once-in-a-generational talent.
But somewhere, the Sox need to find a middle-of-the-order force to maintain their offensive might. The Sox led the majors in runs scored last year and it's difficult to envision them maintaining that perch without adding a elite run producer either by free agency of trade.
Top option: Edwin Encarnacion
Little known fact: The Red Sox had a trade in place in 2010 that would have sent Mike Lowell to Toronto in exchange for Encarnacion. But when Lowell indicated he would retire rather than report to the Blue Jays, the deal was shelved.
If the Sox are to make a deal for Encarnacion this winter, it will come at a significantly higher cost. Expectations are Encarnacion will get, at minimum, a four-year deal with an average annual salary in excess of $20 million. It would also cost the Red Sox their first-round pick next June as compensation since the Jays will undoubtedly present the slugger with a qualifying offer.
In spite of the cost, there's little dispute that Encarnacion would be a huge addition. He's actually hit more homers (193-163) and knocked in more runs (550-502) than Ortiz over the last five seasons.
As an added bonus, Encarnacion could be more than just a DH, with an ability to split playing time at first with Hanley Ramirez.
Next level: Carlos Beltran; Jose Bautista
Beltran was a trade target of the Red Sox last July, but making a deal with the rival New York Yankees proved problematic. A switch-hitter, Beltran would give the Sox some balance to the lineup and could, at least occasionally, fill in in left field. At 40, he would likely command no more than a one-year deal with an option for 2018.
Bautista had the misfortune to have a dropoff season in his walk year. His .817 OPS, while hardly diastrous, was his lowest since 2009. He's lost range in the outfield, but could still contribute occasionally. The one benefit to his disappointing 2016 is that he'd come at a cheaper price than teammate Encarnacion. He's has a huge backer in manager John Farrell, who had him for two seasons in Toronto. And more than any other free agent DH available, Bautista would fill Ortiz's leadership void.
Others: Mark Trumbo, Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli
Trumbo represents a pure power bat. He led baseball with 47 homers, but that was something of an outlier since he'd hit 36 homers in the previous two seasons combined. He's also is all-or-nothing hitter, with 170 strikeouts and a propensity for slumps.
Holliday is more of a pure hitter, who hasn't hit as many as 30 homers since 2007, when he played in Coors Field. At nearly 37, he would also represent a shorter investment.
Napoli, of course, is no stranger to the Red Sox, having been a big contributor to their 2013 championship. Well-liked by teammates and the staff alike, he found himself in 2016 after his wildly uneven 2015. Like Trumbo, he's streaky. Unlike Trumbo, he could contribute in the field, and might come with no strings attached since the budget-conscious Indians might not give him a qualifying offer.
The Red Sox stand to lose two relievers from their playoff roster (Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler), both of whom they could try to retain.
Uehara will be 41 on Opening Day, meaning a one-year deal at a salary far below the $9 million he earned last year. Ziegler can probably command a multiyear commitment and may want to go somewhere he can serve as closer again.
There are a number of top-flight closers (Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman) on the market, but it's hard to envision the Red Sox wanting to commit the money necessary to land one, especially with Kimbrel on the books for next season at $13.25 million, with an option year after that.
TOP OPTION: Greg Holland
After undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of last season, Holland is ready to throw for teams this week and the Red Sox plan to be in attendance. He has closing experience, but presumably wouldn't be averse to setting-up Kimbrel -- if the money were right. Holland has averaged 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his career and could give the Sox another swing-and-miss weapon in the late innings.
OTHER OPTIONS: Luke Hochevar, Fernando Rodney, Santiago Casilla
Hochevar has had injury issues the last few years, missing 2014 with Tommy John surgery and undergoing thoracic outlet surgery last August, making his availability to start the season a question. But Hochever has multi-inning capability and might be worth a gamble.
Casilla saved 88 games over the last three years, though he lost the closer's job with the Giants in the second half of the season. He still has good stuff (averaging a career-best 10.1 strikeouts in 2016) and could be worth a gamble.
Rodney, too, represents a gamble. He was brilliant with the Padres last year, then disastrous with Miami after a mid-season trade. He has a history with Dave Dombrowski in Detroit, and at nearly 40, wouldn't be in position to demand much in the way of salary.