Dombrowski prioritizes finding ace, boosting 'pen
BOSTON -- With the Red Sox already accounted for at each position around the diamond, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski can isolate most of his focus to the pitching side as he gets ready for the offseason.
In the coming weeks, Dombrowski will work hard to acquire an ace for the rotation and a couple of power arms for the bullpen. And one of those relievers will preferably have closing experience to supplement Koji Uehara, who will be 41 by Opening Day.
The plan of going to battle without a true Number 1 pitcher didn't work at all last season, as the Red Sox hoped one would emerge, but it never happened.
Fortunately, there are several available aces headed to free agency, including David Price and Johnny Cueto.
"I would say that in our situation, when you have [Clay] Buchholz back and feeling good and then if you go from there, our depth in starting pitching is pretty good. I don't think the back end of our rotation is going to be the difficult part. We have [Rick] Porcello, [Wade] Miley, [Joe] Kelly. We saw [Henry] Owens, he pitched well. [Eduardo] Rodriguez can take that step forward at any point. I don't think it's the depth as much as much as you're looking for that one guy that maybe can be your horse that you can get."
As perhaps the Red Sox learned last season, it isn't just the numbers that an ace pitcher puts up, but the burden that pitcher takes off the rest of the rotation.
"These other guys on a pitching staff, to have a guy that shows them the way in a lot of cases, we have a lot of guys who are in position to do those things, but that can always help from a makeup standpoint, from an experience standpoint, as you go through a long season," said Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen.
Of course, dominant bullpens are every bit as important to championship aspirations as having an ace.
Uehara's 2015 season ended prematurely when he broke his right wrist in August, but he's under contract for another season. Will he again be the closer?
"I didn't see [Uehara] for myself, as you know. His track record has been that he can handle the closing situation very well," said Dombrowski -- hired as Red Sox president on Aug. 18 after parting ways with the Tigers on Aug. 4. "People have told me he can fit different roles but also feel comfortable that he can close games at this point in his career. Right now he's our closer, that's the plan, but who knows what will happen?
"But I'm also concerned if the same thing happens this year, if we have an injury. [Junichi] Tazawa is much more comfortable pitching the eighth inning instead of the ninth inning -- as you know he mixed and matched -- and Robbie Ross did a good job for us. But to say we're going to put that on his back completely going into next year, I would hope we could find somebody else in that regard."
There aren't nearly as many quality relievers on the free-agent market as starters, so Dombrowski might have to make a trade or two to replenish his bullpen to the degree he'd like.
"Ideally, you want an arm out there that can be a power arm that can get a strikeout at a key time. And Koji is a different type of guy. Tazawa can get that done for you, but he's not going to get that done for you in the ninth inning on a consistent basis, so he's not going to be that guy for us," Dombrowski said. "So I'm open to basically all of them, but I would like to add a power arm at some point."