It's a very rare thing for a team to win a championship when something about it is terrible. There will never be a perfect team, to be sure, but setting average--maybe even a little below--as a baseline for every individual component (lineup, defense, rotation, bullpen) seems to be fairly reasonable.
Unfortunately for Theo Epstein and his Red Sox, that's exactly what their bullpen has been. And it's exactly what everyone saw coming. While misguided complaints of a mediocre offense (currently sitting on top of the league) may have been louder and taken priority for many, it was clear the team was floundering when it came to the pen. A rash of minor league signings made with the hopes of finding the elusive diamond in the rough were met with hopes that maybe those relievers who had regressed and declined through the second half of the year (injury excuses aside) might somehow return to whatever form they'd had either in the first half, a year ago, or even back in 2007 and 2008.
Wishful thinking, to say the least.
The rationale behind the lack of major offseason moves from Epstein was simple: reliever performance is inconsistent, and so any signing is inherently risky. May as well go with the low-risk (oh, how loaded that term has become) minor leaguers and hope one of them pans out.
Unfortunately, they have not done so, and now Epstein must face the consequences of his approach's relatively high chance of failure: the trade market. Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, he does not seem to be entirely willing:
That said, you trade for two or three months of a reliever, doesn't matter if it's a good one or a great one, you still don't know what you're going to get. So you don't necessarily always want to give up good prospects to get that type of guy, because you're not sure what you're going to get in a small sample size from a reliever.
Sorry, Theo, but that's not going to cut it. You never know what you're going to get, no, but you need a better chance than you have with this current group.
The specter of Eric Gagne looms large, and I am in no way advocating that the Sox drop Casey Kelly or Ryan Kalish on someone to pick up the seventh inning (actually, the way that Papelbon has pitched, it's the ninth that's needed, but oh well), but they need quality relief help. More than one arm, ideally, but at least one very good addition to the bullpen.
As much as Theo Epstein may not want to deal away any legitimate talent on a bullpen gamble, it's essentially that, or give up the season. As much as we'd like for it to, a Billy Wagner deal does not come along every day. Even if it goes against Theo's principles, sacrificing a potential championship season (and a top of the line offense with at least two great starters is absolutely that) because of a wariness of receiving nothing for something just won't fly.
When Theo didn't sign better relief help over the offseason, he took a gamble that he wouldn't have to give up the more valuable commodity (prospects vs. cash) if he found a relief gem. That hasn't happened. He picked his poison, now he has to drink it.