The Red Sox made a change to their bullpen earlier this week, shipping out Matt Barnes to the Marlins for Richard Bleier. Boston reportedly paid down around $5.5MM to facilitate that deal, a testament to Barnes’ struggles since he signed a two-year, $18.75MM extension in July 2021.
That trade came a few days after the Sox had designated Barnes for assignment, a move that registered as a surprise even given the righty’s uneven past year and a half. The UCONN product had spent his entire career with the Red Sox since being drafted in the first round in 2011, and he indicated he was taken aback by the DFA.
“It was a complete blindside,” Barnes told Chris Cotillo of MassLive about being taken off the 40-man roster. While he indicated he doesn’t have any animosity about his time in Boston, Barnes also intimated he wasn’t enamored with his usage last season. By the second week of May, he was deployed mostly in low-leverage situations. Between May 6 and 30, he was called upon ten times. Seven of those contests saw the Sox either trailing late or leading a blowout contest, with Barnes relegated to mop-up work.
“We got to a point in the season where we were either blowing people out or losing a game and unfortunately for me, those are the games I was throwing at that point,” he told Cotillo. “My workload in the games increased along with the amount of work I was doing to get back to what was normal for me. That’s when my shoulder flared up.” Barnes hit the injured list retroactive to May 31 with shoulder inflammation, an injury that kept him out of action until early August.
Of course, the lack of high-leverage work was in response to Barnes’ struggles. He’d been tagged for an 8.65 ERA in 10 appearances through May 5. That was on the heels of a 6.48 showing in the second half of 2021 that led the Sox to leave him off the playoff roster. He actually fared quite well to close out the 2022 campaign, posting a 1.66 ERA in 23 games to finish out the year. That wasn’t enough to grab a lasting 40-man spot over the winter, perhaps due to a still diminished 21.7% strikeout rate in that stretch.
Red Sox’s chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom discussed the Barnes DFA and subsequent trade on the Fenway Rundown podcast with Cotillo yesterday. Bloom noted that trading Barnes to Miami was “not something that we knew was going to happen at the time of the DFA,” suggesting the opportunity to make the trade arose after the reliever lost his roster spot. He pointed to Bleier’s propensity for weak contact and previous success in the AL East as a member of the Yankees and Orioles as reasons he was an appealing target for the front office.
Bleier adds a second left-hander to the Boston relief corps, joining offseason signee Joely Rodríguez. The Sox had a decent amount of turnover in that regard, waiving Darwinzon Hernández, trading Josh Taylor for Adalberto Mondesi, and seeing Matt Strahm depart via free agency. Boston has starting pitching prospects like Chris Murphy and Brandon Walter who could theoretically factor into that mix after securing 40-man roster spots.
James Paxton is another southpaw on the roster. He’s pitched just six MLB games over the past three seasons due to arm injuries. That’s raised some speculation about the possibility of the veteran seeing action in relief as a means of building his innings gradually. Bloom didn’t rule that out entirely, though he cautioned that might not be prudent for a pitcher who has started all 137 of his career big league outings.
“At the stage of his career that he’s at and having been through as much medically as he’s been through, adding the variable of asking him to do something he hasn’t really done is something we would have to think long and hard before doing,” Bloom told Cotillo. “That doesn’t rule it out, but you do have to factor that in.”
The Boston baseball operations leader also pushed back against the possibility of using young righty Brayan Bello out of the bullpen, pointing to his “ceiling of being a really good starting pitcher.” Bloom did note that Boston could “creatively” manage workloads early in the season but made clear the team still views Bello’s future as a starter. Jen McCaffrey of the Athletic writes there’s similarly no consideration of moving Nick Pivetta to the bullpen. Between that trio, Chris Sale, offseason signee Corey Kluber and the rotation conversion for Garrett Whitlock, it seems things are trending towards Tanner Houck sticking in relief for the upcoming season.