The Red Sox had their scouts fanning out across the country to evaluate relief pitchers even before the news that Andrew Bailey had suffered a significant shoulder injury. Now the need is magnified.
The Red Sox bullpen Friday night had Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Matt Thornton, Drake Britton, Pedro Beato and Jose De La Torre. Brandon Workman, the No. 5 starter, was available, too.
Uehara, Breslow and Thornton are veteran major leaguers who have been through pennant races before. Tazawa has a remarkable 196 ERA+ over the last two seasons (40 appearances and 85.2 innings), but has looked worn down of late.
Britton has yet to pitch in the majors. De La Torre has four games of experience and Beato is a 26-year-old who is with his third organization since 2010.
Uehara has appeared in 45 games this season and thrown 43.1 innings. He was in 37 games last season and 65 in 2011. The Sox are working him hard and he’s 38. His continued good health is not a high-percentage bet.
Here are the various avenues GM Ben Cherington can explore:
1. Trade for one or two set-up men: That’s the most obvious route. The Sox have a solid farm system with redundancy at some positions. Cherington could make another deal or two similar to the acquisition of Thornton for Double A outfielder Brandon Jacobs.
Among the set-up men likely to be available, Jesse Crain of the White Sox is a candidate if he is deemed healthy. The Sox also have scouted White Sox righthander Matt Lindstrom.
Lefthanders Oliver Perez (Mariners), Mike Dunn (Marlins) and Mike Gonzalez (Brewers) are candidates.
2. Trade for a closer: The Sox could obtain a closer and shift Uehara back to the eighth inning. The cost in terms of prospects would be higher, however.
There have been no indications of interest in bringing Jonathan Papelbon back from Philadelphia. But Francisco Rodriguez (Brewers), Steve Cishek (Marlins) and Kevin Gregg (Cubs) are possibilities.
3. Fill from within: The Sox could use Britton, Brandon Workman and other prospects and see what they can do. Converted minor league starters often make excellent relievers early in their careers.
Rubby De La Rosa, John Farrell said today, is not yet a candidate for that. The Sox like the way he is developing as a starter.
Steven Wright is in Pawtucket. So is Clayton Mortensen. Alex Wilson (out with a thumb injury) started a throwing program on Friday. Franklin Morales is presumably coming back this season.
4. Trade for a starter: If the Sox could obtain a No. 5 starter, that would make it much easier to use their prospects in relief.
The non-waiver trade deadline comes on July 31. Trades can still be made after that [seriously, thanks again Dodgers], but the Sox might prefer to strike now while the market is still developing and they are in first place.
Given the state of the AL East, one or two games could be the difference between playing in October or going home.