Red Sox reliever Carson Smith underwent Tommy John Surgery on Tuesday, and will not return during the 2016 season. This could be a big blow for Boston, which loses a key bullpen arm just as the season is about to really heat up, and will now have to explore other options for the late innings.
Smith, a promising 26-year old hurler, was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Wade Miley trade last December. He struck out 92 batters in 70 inning last season, and pitched to a 2.31 ERA. The Red Sox were keen to fortify an inconsistent bullpen, and Carson Smith was deemed a major upgrade. In an ideal world, he was slated to join Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in setting up games for Craig Kimbrel, giving Boston a formidable bullpen to compete with any other in baseball.
Those plans were jeopardized in spring training, when Smith endured tightness in his right forearm. He was diagnosed with a muscle strain, but recovered to join the Red Sox in May. However, after just three appearances, doctors determined that Carson required Tommy John Surgery, which could put him out of action for up to eighteen months.
Options to replace Carson Smith
Obviously, the Red Sox haven’t felt the full benefit of Carson Smith this season, but his absence still creates a headache for Dave Dombrowski. The President of Baseball Operations has already said that the Red Sox are in no hurry to search for solutions on the trade market, given the strong performances from guys like Heath Hembree, Tommy Layne and Robbie Ross. Indeed, the Red Sox currently rank seventh in bullpen ERA throughout Major League Baseball, so the current crop has done a very solid job.
However, Carson Smith figured to be a major contributor throughout the summer and down the stretch. He had overpowering stuff and the potential to be another premier arm shutting down games for Boston in the late innings. Now, that weapon has been removed, at least for 2016, and with all due respect, nobody in the current bullpen really stands out as a serious candidate to take on a more important setup role. The Sox are still in good shape with Tazawa and Kimbrel, but Uehara is 41-years old and his 2016 statistics show considerable decline compared to his career averages.
Therefore, as we move towards the trade deadline, expect the Red Sox to be active in the market for relief help. They’re not totally desperate for another arm, which should leave plenty of room in negotiations and hopefully enable Dombrowski to acquire a setup man at a fair price. While they never gain much attention, trades for relievers are very popular in mid-season, and there should be no shortage of options a month or two from now. Relievers are highly expendable, especially for non-contending teams, so the Red Sox may be in a strong bargaining position.
This news sucks for Carson Smith, and we wish him a speedy recovery. It would have been great to see him add length to the Red Sox bullpen this summer and potentially through the playoffs. Yet, while his absence is less than ideal in the short-term, Dombrowski shouldn’t have a problem finding a replacement, which will be required as Boston eyes a serious run at October.