Oki Warmingphoto © 2008 Eric Kilby | more info (via: Wylio)

Here is the best way to sum up the Red Sox 2011 approach to finding a left-handed option in the bullpen:

We certainly like the non-roster options that we have from the left side with Rich Hill, Andrew Miller and Randy Williams,” the GM noted. “We’re certainly comfortable coming to spring training and looking more closely at that group. There are still some guys out there that we’re talking to. But I think the biggest thing is that we’ve added a lot of depth, a lot of experience, power arms and strike-throwers to our pen. Last year was a struggle all season for us to cobble it together and to give Tito some quality options. We feel like even if we broke camp today we have an abundance of options and different looks with guys who can go through the heart of a team’s order and get to Pap.”

Don’t think its just lip service either.

When it came to spending money for late innings pitchers, the Red Sox used their cash on two dominant right-handers (Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler). The only money spent on a lefty was the re-signing of Hideki Okajima to a one year deal, despite looking like a shell of his former self.

Theo’s approach this year is see what sticks from a handful of players and he doesn’t seem too worried.

Plus, how could you not like the concept of power arms and strike-throwers? It’s so basic but sometimes you see organizations get away from it.

This Red Sox team is so well-constructed on paper this year that we are relgated to trivial concerns and trumped up worries.

That the question marks we investigate revolve around Spring Training invitees, journeymen pitchers and prospect busts speaks volumes to the state of the roster.

Andrew Miller
and Rich Hill are the two guys everyone wants to do well. They are the former high draft pick-prospects you get to hope reach their potential under Red Sox tutelage. Then they blossom into mega-stars so you can brag about it.David Ortizphoto © 2006 Jamie Baker | more info (via: Wylio)

If either Hill or Miller live up to their potential (even for just 30 innings) you have yourself a breakout performer and a heap of praise for Theo and crew. Miller has ties to the Red Sox already by being Daniel Bard’s teammate at UNC, but it doesn’t end there.

Miller went to Buchholz High School and won the Roger Clemens Award winner as the nation’s top collegiate pitcher. Interesting Red Sox name associations. Maybe the stars are aligning for this kid.

And how about Randy Williams? (Who is Randy Williams?) He’s a wild-style pitcher in the Charlie Sheen-mold who strikes out a ton of guys and walks a bunch more while occasionally getting hammered by the long ball.

Williams’ entire issue is centered around whether or not he can control himself. Even just a shade better control makes him playable. His K/9 flashed a 11.2 in 2009, but the BB/9 was over 6.0.

Despite the crazy ratios, his command was still nearly 2.0. Telling us right away that a tiny uptick in control with sustained K/9’s over 11.0 and WOW. You get an electric bullpen arm that people in Boston will love.

Right now there isn’t a clear-cut favorite to win that lefty gig out of the ‘pen. I’m hearing some of you flirt with the idea of using Felix Doubront, but you need to get over that idea. Doubront is the best pitching prospect in the organization and will be in a rotation by the end of the year — either in Boston or elsewhere.

You might see a few appearances from Doubront in relief, but let’s go ahead and count him out of the lefty-specialist role.

The Red Sox are using a broad brush-stroke philosophy of compiling projectable left-handed pitchers with minor league contracts in an effort to unearth a LOOGY. Will it work out?

I bet it does.

Maybe Theo is just throwing darts at the wall, but he’s certainly not doing it blindly. Every single left-hander signed or acquired has upside that could translate to a 35-40 inning specialist.

We all understand the volatility of a relief pitcher and the risk involved in paying a premium for their services. This year’s free agent market was limited in terms of LHP options (and in value).

Scott Downs was the best lefty available and ended up signing a three-year deal that pays him $5 million per year to play for the Angels. (the same Angels who just took on Vernon Wells’ albatross of a contract)

$5 million is a lot to pay for 34 year-old reliever. Pass.

Arthur Rhodes (TEX) was also out there for the taking but the Sox stayed away from the 41-year old. Rhodes might be on the wrong side of 40, but he does one thing and does it well – destroys other lefties. Rhodes was listed as a Type-A free agent but the Cincinnati Reds did not offer him arbitration so Boston could have been in on him without losing picks.

But, on the other hand, you have to wonder how he’ll fair in the AL after pitching in the National East and Central the last three seasons.

Right now, the only left-handed reliever on the roster is Hideki Okajima. The Red Sox went ahead and re-signed him after he struggled in 2010. His command and K/9 are both on a three year slide giving the chance for a return to 2008 levels very unlikely.

Back on December 16th, 2010, Theo grabbed a bunch of left-handed projects and signed them to minor league deals. This list included Lenny DiNardo, Williams, Miller and Hill. All four of those guys will be in contention to play a LOOGY role (if not more) in 2011.

Here are some names of the last 8 years that have been brought in as bullpen projects. Some have worked, while others remind us why they were maybe on minor league contracts.

  • Joel Pinero
    Matt Mantei
    Chad Fox
    Billy Traber
    Tim Bausher
    John Halama
    Rudy Seanez (technically while Theo was on sabbatical)
    Hideki Okajima
    Brandon Donnelly
    J.C. Romero
    Runelvys Hernandez
    Scott Atchison
    Marcus McBeth
    Hunter Jones
    Robert Manuel
    Fabio Castro
    Boof Bonser
    Brandon Duckworth

Big named bad deals:

Ramiro Mendoza (two year deal, Yankee embed)
Scott Sauerbeck (did nothing in Boston, gave up Freddy Sanchez to get him*)
Eric Gagne (steroid bum)

You can see the reliever game is hit and miss.

Dennys Reyesphoto © 2009 Barbara | more info (via: Wylio)
The last player I would turn my attention to is 34-year old reliever Dennys Reyes. He’s another longshot project like Miller, Hill and Williams. Except Reyes has been dominant over a full season (45+ IP) on two separate occasions at the Major League leven (’06,’08) Despite a waning skill-profile, he still possesses enough that a final flash of brilliance should not be dismissed.

Plus he’ll remind people of Rich Garces.

Spring training will make the lefty-specialist storyline play out and we’ll know what the reality is come April. But if I had to guess today who the LHP will be (in addition Oki) I would say Randy Williams will be the man. Williams has a history of pitching well in Spring Training and in the early parts of the season.

Great job by the team in loading up on arms. There are enough options here that it’s reasonable to expect one to breakout and help take down the likes of Robinson Cano, Mark Teixiera or Curtis Granderson. Outside of New York the division does not have a lot of left-handed threats and the Sox should come out well in this.