The Red Sox have clearly prioritized their bullpen so far this winter, pretty much to the exclusion of the rest of the roster.
They've signed three relievers, including closer Kenley Jansen, in a bid to remake the late innings into a strength after forcing manager Alex Cora to wade through piles of sludge in search of the 27th out last year.
With former Dodgers right-hander Chris Martin and ex-Mets lefty Joely Rodriguez joining holdovers John Schreiber and Matt Barnes, the Red Sox have the makings of a more effective and reliable back end, so here's a thought: go all in.
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Two of the team's best relievers are currently slated for the rotation, with Garrett Whitlock already moved there and Tanner Houck told to prepare as if he'll be joining him. On one level, the moves make sense, since starters are expensive, and the young right-handers offer a chance to fill two slots in the rotation at a reasonable rate for multiple seasons.
That said, starters have never been less valuable. No one wants them to turn over the lineup a third time anymore, so bullpens are routinely asked to record 12-plus outs a game. The most important at-bats can come anytime between the sixth and ninth, which makes a deep bullpen essential.
So could Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom be tempted to just load up his staff from the back and add Whitlock and Houck to the bullpen?
"That temptation is always there," he said, before explaining why he at least wants to give the duo a shot in the rotation.
Whitlock opened the season in the bullpen and then shifted to the rotation when Houck couldn't travel to Toronto in April because he wasn't vaccinated. Pitching with a bad hip that required offseason surgery, Whitlock went 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in nine starts, and 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 22 relief appearances.
Houck conducted his season in reverse, opening in the rotation and then joining the bullpen out of necessity, where he, too, posted much better numbers: 1-2, 4.32 as a starter vs. 4-2, 2.70 in 28 relief outings.
"I just think with those guys, they both showed a ton of promise in longer roles," Bloom said. "With Tanner, he had a lot of success, he kind of moved to the back of the game because of the way things played out. And Garrett, for as many up and downs as there were for his time in the rotation, I think we probably had to remind our fans and remind Garrett, starters occasionally do give up runs, and it doesn't mean they can't do the job, and to think he did that while battling an injury that really hindered him from April onward was really impressive. You look at a lot of the ingredients he demonstrated during that time starting and there were some really good signs on par with top young starters in the game."
So for now, rather than build a lights-out setup crew, the Red Sox will use Whitlock and Houck to plug holes in their rotation.
"We would be shorting both of them, and shorting ourselves, if we didn't at least put them in a position to have a chance to do it," Bloom said. "We'll see how it plays out, but we would be silly to deny them a chance to reach that ceiling."