By Jeff Louderback
Left-handed relievers are a valued commodity is Major League Baseball, and the Boston Red Sox are rich in that category. This is why they did not tender a contract to 32-year-old Milton, Mass. product Rich Hill on Friday, making him a free agent.
Hill joined right-handed reliever Scott Atchison and outfielder Ryan Sweeney as arbitation-eligible players who were not offered contracts by the Red Sox. Like Atchison, who logged a 1.58 ERA for Boston in 2012 but landed on the disabled list with a torn elbow ligament, Hill was effective but plagued with injuries. He posted a 1.85 ERA in 25 games after returning from Tommy John surgery but spent time on the DL with left elbow and forearm soreness.
Hill was projected to receive a salary of $1.1 million by MLBTradeRumors.com. The Red Sox have the hard-throwing Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller, and reliable veteran Craig Breslow as left-handed relievers.
Since Hill is a Boston native and a lifelong Red Sox fan who embraces his role with the hometown team, he could repeat last year’s move (when he was non-tendered) and return on a minor league deal. Left-handed relievers are coveted by many teams, though, so Hill will likely receive offers for Major League deals from other clubs.
The Red Sox have 23-year-old left-hander Chris Hernandez, a seventh round pick in 2010 out of the University of Miami who has thrived as a starting pitcher in every stop in the system but projects as a reliever at the Major League level. Hernandez will open the 2013 campaign in the Triple-A Pawtucket rotation.
Highly regarded 23-year-old left-hander Drake Britton is considered a future late-inning reliever or a middle of the rotation starter. He will likely find himself in the rotation at Double-A Portland in 2013 with a probable mid-season promotion to Pawtucket.
If Hill is re-signed, chances are the Red Sox will include Miller or Morales in a trade since both have high value and can be packaged in a deal to land a starting pitcher, an outfielder or a first baseman.
One or the other could also be included in a package to pry Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson from Cleveland.