Red Sox Notes: Barnes, Bleier, Paxton, Bello, Pivetta
The Red Sox changed their bullpen earlier this week, shipping Matt Barnes to the Marlins for Richard Bleier. Boston reportedly paid about $5.5 million to facilitate the deal, a testament to Barnes’ struggles since signing a two-year, $18.75 million extension in July 2021.
That trade came days after the Sox signed Barnes for assignment, a move that came as a surprise even given the right-hander’s patchy 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 surprised by the DFA.
“It was a complete blind spot,” Barnes told MassLive’s Chris Cotillo of his removal from the 40-man roster. Although he indicated he had no animosity about his time in Boston, Barnes also hinted that he was not enamored with his use last season. In the second week of May, it was deployed mainly in low leverage situations. Between May 6 and May 30, he was asked ten times. Seven of those contests saw the Sox trailing behind or having a burst contest, with Barnes relegated to cleanup work.
“We got to a point in the season where we were blowing people up or losing a game and unfortunately for me, those were the games I was throwing at that point,” he told Cotillo. “My workload in games increased 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 was put on the disabled list retroactively May 31 with an inflamed shoulder, 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 had been tagged for an 8.65 ERA in 10 appearances through May 5. It was on the heels of a 6.48 performance in the second half of 2021 that led to the Sox dropping him off the playoff roster. He did quite well to close out the 2022 campaign, posting a 1.66 ERA in 23 games to end the year. That wasn’t enough to grab a sustainable 40-man berth over the winter, perhaps due to a further diminished withdrawal rate of 21.7% over that period.
Yesterday, Red Sox baseball manager Chaim Bloom discussed the Barnes DFA and subsequent exchanges on the Fenway Rundown podcast with Cotillo. Bloom noted that Barnes’ trade to Miami was “not something we knew was going to happen at the time of the DFA”, suggesting the opportunity to make the trade arose after the reliever has lost his place on the list. He pointed to Bleier’s propensity for weak contact and his previous successes in the AL East as a member of the Yankees and Orioles as reasons why he was an attractive target for the front office.
Bleier adds a second southpaw to Boston’s backup corps, joining offseason signee Joely Rodríguez. The Sox had a decent turnover in that regard, waiving Darwinzon Hernández, trading Josh Taylor for Adalberto Mondesi and seeing Matt Strahm leave via free agency. Boston has pitching prospects like Chris Murphy and Brandon Walter who could theoretically consider this mix after securing spots on the 40-man roster.
James Paxton is another southpaw on the list. He has only pitched six MLB games over the past three seasons due to arm injuries. This has raised speculation that the veteran may see the relief action as a way to gradually build up his innings. Bloom didn’t completely rule that out, though he cautioned that it might not be prudent for a pitcher who started his 137 career big league outings.
“At the stage of his career he’s at and having been through as much medical stuff as he’s been through, adding the variable of asking him to do something he hasn’t actually done is something we should think long and hard about. before doing so,” Bloom told Cotillo. “That doesn’t rule it out, but you have to take it into account.”
Boston’s chief baseball operations officer also pushed back against using young right-hander Brayan Bello out of the bullpen, pointing to his “ceiling of being a really good starting pitcher.” Bloom noted that Boston could “creatively” handle workloads early in the season, but said the team still views Bello’s future as a starter. The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey writes that there are no plans to move Nick Pivetta into the bullpen either. Between that trio, Chris Sale, offseason signing Corey Kluber, and rotation conversion for Garrett Whitlock, it looks like things are trending toward Tanner Houck remaining in relief for the upcoming season.