Andrew Baileys recent struggles could have him out as closer in Boston
Coming into the season, the Red Sox bullpen seemed as if it would be a strength of the team. Andrew Bailey and Junichi Tazawa finally seemed healthy, Andrew Miller was a strong lefty specialist, and newcomers Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara were supposed to be a lockdown 8th and 9th inning combo. 75 games into the season one thing is clear, Boston needs a shutdown closer.
Unfortunately a few weeks into the season, Hanrahan was diagnosed with a torn flexor tendon and had Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter, ending his season. Bailey has been at best inconsistent all year. In June, Bailey has an ERA of 6.43, WHIP of 2.00, and K/BB ratio of 6/6. Over that time he has blown two saves, been very shaky and barely escaping with saves multiple times, and has given up 4 homeruns. Those are not numbers worthy of someone with the title of "Closer".
Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara have both been tremendous, combining for an ERA of 2.31 and a K/BB ratio of 80/10. However, since they are both performing so well in the setup role, and both have limited closing experience, I'm not sure that moving either to the 9th inning would be a great solution.
The artist formerly known as Daniel Bard remains somewhere in the minors, however he has apparently forgotten how to throw a strike on a consistent basis, owning a horrific 6/17 K/BB and an ERA of 6.39 in 12 2/3 innings in Portland before being shut down with a strained abdomen. As much as a loved Bard back when he made A-Rod's knees buckle with a filthy slider at Fenway Park to strike him out, those glory days seem long gone. Bobby V and Ben Cherington's attempt to turn him into a starter last year has completely backfired, and he may never be the same pitcher again.
So where then, does that leave the Red Sox with their closer situation? I have heard rumblings that the Phillies have had scouts at Red Sox minor league games recently, in anticipation that Boston might be interested in bringing back Jonathan Papelbon to close. Personally I don't think that would be a good idea unless Cherington could entice Philadelphia to include Cliff Lee. Obviously it would require a much stronger package of prospects, but it might be worth it if the Sox could hold onto top prospects Xander Bogaerts and Matt Barnes. But in a deal for just Pap, I don't think it would be worth what we would give up considering he hasn't had a full dominant season since 2009.
Relief help seems like it will be hard to come by at the trading deadline this year, especially with other elite teams (Braves, Tigers) looking for help in the bullpen as well. Jose Veras (Astros) and Chris Perez (Indians) might be the two highest profile names who will be on the block in July, but they are not exactly game changers. Other possible trade targets could be Scott Downs (Angels), Darren Oliver (Blue Jays), JJ Putz and Heath Bell (Diamondbacks), or John Axford (Brewers). None of those names really gets me excited about them joining Boston.
Almost halfway through the season the Red Sox have one of the best records in all of baseball, and are certainly doing much better than I anticipated, but if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs, the need to address their bullpen sooner rather than later.