BOSTON — As the rain intensified and lightning grew closer, Red Sox relievers who had been playing catch on the outfield grass jogged to the bullpen and sought shelter from the storm.
With the 4 p.m. trade deadline looming it was quite a metaphor, but as the thunderstorm passed so, too, did the deadline, neither making any real impact at Fenway Park.
Though he had texts from 20 general managers and was adamant that he could have struck a deal, Dave Dombrowski decided to stand pat.
“I don’t think there was a move — when I talk about our positional players last year, remember we had second base was a real hole for us at the time for a variety of reasons, injuries, performance,” Dombrowski said. “We really struggled versus left-handed pitching, we needed that. But we’re really, not saying better per se, but we don’t have that gaping hole for us.”
The Red Sox don’t have one gaping hole. They’ve got two. And they’re both in the bullpen.
Dombrowski let Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly walk in free agency, which was understandable given the price tags, but did nothing to fill their spikes. This issue stems from a winter of inactivity.
Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton landed in New York, Andrew Miller went to St. Louis, David Robertson landed in Philly, and on and on. Dombrowski took a flier on Colten Brewer, believing the Red Sox had some answer that the Padres, who were likely to take him off their 40-man roster, didn’t. That’s it.
The results have been as anticipated: Boston’s bullpen had blown 19 saves coming into last night’s game, second most in the American League, and Brandon Workman is the only full-time reliever with an ERA below 3.50.
They have a championship-caliber offense, an underachieving-yet-talented rotation, and a leaky, leaky ‘pen.
But the great thing about baseball is that you can admit you’re wrong and change course. Until July 31, anyway.
“The problem for us in the bullpen like a lot of people is depth,” Dombrowski said. “When you start getting to (Matt) Barnes, you can’t believe how many phone calls I got about our bullpen pieces... So it just gives you an idea almost everybody can get better in their bullpen.
“When you start talking about Barnes, Workman,” Dombrowski paused. “I know (Nathan) Eovaldi hasn’t quite done it but we’re very confident he’s going to do it. I know somebody will say, ‘Dombrowski said that,’ but we do believe he’s going to be very good for us.”
Dombrowski did say that about Tyler Thornburg and Steven Wright before the season began, neither of whom has been a meaningful contributor in 2019.
Look at the roster last October and look at it roster now.
There were four arms, Kimbrel, Kelly, Barnes and Ryan Brasier, that could be entrusted with high-leverage situations. Consider Brasier — who is currently in Pawtucket — and Workman a wash, and there are still two serious relief roles left unfilled.
Maybe Eovaldi grows into one of those. Maybe not.
Either way, there’s another vacancy that remains completely unaddressed. It didn’t have to be a blockbuster Bobby Dalbec for Edwin Diaz deal, but this bullpen clearly still needed an upgrade of some sort. Of any sort.
“If we were closer to first place, I would’ve been more open minded with some of the other things,” Dombrowski said. “Not that we’re not trying to get our club better, but when I say that, the club here needs to play better on a consistent basis. We like our club, we’ve liked our club all year long.
“We are going for it. It’s just you still have to — every year you go for it as much as you can,” Dombrowski reasoned. “We’re all in. But the all in to me is what we have. And if you said, and I’m not going to use players’ names, but if we traded this prospect or that prospect, we could’ve had this player. Well, that could’ve happened but we decided we did not want to do that.”
Maybe so, but it’s hard to believe these Red Sox are all in when Dombrowski is sticking with the same relievers that keep leaving them out in the rain.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Daily News and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason.