As they seek to hone their 2014 roster, one area the team may need to explore upgrading is the bullpen.
The magical past season had many contributors but was accomplished with a surprisingly unflashy bullpen. According to ESPN.com, Boston relievers were 10th in the American League with a 3.70 ERA, 12th with a .710 OPS allowed and second to last with 33 saves.
The unevenness was in large part because of going through multiple closers, as Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both struggled with the job before succumbing to season-ending injuries. After their departures, Koji Uehara stepped in and was historically dominant closing out games, but it was occasionally an adventure getting to him.
As things stand, here is how the 2014 Boston bullpen stacks up:
Koji Uehara: The 38-year-old right-hander started the year as a set-up man but wound up as the best closer in baseball. He went 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 21 saves in 73 regular-season games, with 101 strikeouts in 74.1 innings. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he permitted just 14 hits, two walks and two runs in 44.1 innings after taking over the ninth inning duties in late-June.
He will be counted on again heavily next season. However, his age and the small odds he can replicate his amazing 2013 results must be taken into account.
Craig Breslow: The left-handed set-up man had a 1.81 ERA in 61 appearances in 2013. Despite his excellent season, he has been prone to control issues, as he averaged 2.7 walks per nine innings last year and 3.5 for his career. He was particularly shaky in this year's playoffs, walking seven batters in just 7.1 innings.
Lacking big velocity, his career-low 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings last season should be somewhat of a concern, as he must always be around the plate if he isn't going to be missing bats.
Junichi Tazawa: The 27-year-old right-handed former starter was solid as a set-up man, posting a 5-4 record with a 3.16 ERA in 71 games this past season while striking out better than a batter per inning.
One the downside, he was homer-prone, giving up nine long balls in 68.1 innings.
According to FanGraphs.com, he averaged a career-high 93.4 mph on his fastball in 2013. The importance of his velocity was apparent in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers when he was brought in to face slugger Miguel Cabrera in tight situation -- and was able to produce the outs.
The hope would be that Tazawa continues to improve and smooth out any remaining rough edges.
Burke Badenhop: Recently acquired in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers, the right-hander has been a solid but unspectacular reliever during six major league seasons.
He had a 3.47 ERA in 63 relief appearances last season. He has also been durable, making 232 relief appearances in the past four seasons.
After starting his career with poor control, he has turned that around, permitting just 24 walks over the past two seasons, spanning 124.2 innings.
If he sticks with Boston, his role will likely be that of the long man and one of the first men out of the bullpen.
Brandon Workman: The rookie right-hander was very up and down last season making a few starts in addition to 17 games out of the bullpen. Although he struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings as a reliever, hitters still got to him to the tune of a 6.94 ERA when he pitched in that capacity.
The good news is that the 25-year-old starred in the playoffs, contributing seven scoreless appearances.
Because of the strong way he ended the year, he should be given a hard look for a spot in the 2014 bullpen.
Andrew Miller: The lanky southpaw was on his way to an excellent season when he was derailed by foot surgery that caused him to miss the second half. He still managed to post a 2.64 ERA in 37 games while striking out 48 batters in 30.2 innings.
The 28-year-old has a big fastball but has always struggled with control, averaging a whopping 5.3 walks per nine innings for his career. Assuming he is healthy, he is a good bet to return but he must cut down on the free passes in order to be counted on in big spots.
Conclusion: The team has a number of other bullpen candidates currently on the outside looking in. These include youngsters like Alex Wilson, Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa, who all had varying degrees of success in stints with Boston in 2013.
Bailey is expected to miss at least the first half of next year. However, the team will likely non-tender him, according to The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham.
Baseball America's Ben Badler reported Dalier Hinojosa, a 27-year-old Cuban defector, was recently signed to a minor league contract. Although the right-hander should begin next season in the minors, he could contribute to the big league bullpen by the end of the year. Even though he has been a starter throughout his career, he profiles as a reliever at the next level.
The Red Sox have plenty of pieces in place for their 2014 bullpen but some of those candidates come with question marks. Even though there could be natural improvement or bounce-back seasons, the team may not want to take those gambles.
The offseason is still heating up, so Boston has plenty of time to upgrade the relief corps if it wishes.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
- Sports & Recreation
- Boston Red Sox
- Koji Uehara