After acquiring Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney from the Oakland Athletics for Josh Reddick and a pair of talented Class A prospects, the Red Sox will almost undoubtedly stretch out both Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard with the intention of converting one or both stud relievers into a starter.
Before the Phils gave Jonathan Papelbon a boatload of dough, I was on board with resigning the suddenly mature closer and toying with the idea of moving Bard to the rotation. But the Sox stuck to their plan. They went year to year with Paps, paid him handsomely, and cut ties when free agency came calling. Despite the fact that we all know the Sox, hate (and I mean hate) investing heavily in closers, I still felt like someone had punched me in the throat when I heard that Cinco Ocho had signed with Philadelphia. My cubicle at work began to get a whole lot smaller. All of a sudden, the bullpen of the Red Sox became especially shallow. Paps and his 219 career saves, all of which were achieved in a Red Sox uniform, were out the door. It would have been easier watching Papelbon walk after his 2010 campaign, but after putting together arguably his best year as the Red Sox stopper, it was difficult. I know he blew the final game of what capped an utterly miserable final month of the season. I don’t care. The guy is a stud. He just turned 31 years old in November. He punched out over 12 batters per nine frames in 2011 and walked 18 guys less than he did the previous year. Take it for what it is worth, but Papelbon not only succeeded—he thrived in what Steve Buckley would call “the Boston baseball experience.” All of that was now gone. Immediately, my liberal view of Bard’s role changed.
With Papelbon now organizing his locker in Philadelphia, my belief was to vault Bard into the closer’s role. Sure, the former Tar Heel has had some struggles on the road, and he fatigued down the stretch last year. Talk radio and buddies of mine clamored that the Sox go out and sign a proven closer like Ryan Madson. Giving a guy a multi-year deal to close while letting Papelbon walk with no resistance would not have sat well with me. The school of thought was that Bard did not possess “the makeup” to close in Boston. No one pointed to his 26 1/3 innings scoreless streak he amassed during 2011 while being thrust into high leverage situations or the fact that he effortlessly tosses a fastball that often touches north of 97 MPH (not to mention a sharp-biting slider). Bard passes the eye test. He has better pure stuff than Papelbon. He could very well end up being a better closer than Papelbon, but there is a stark difference between the two hard throwing righties. At this point in his career, Papelbon wanted to close.
Daniel Bard is nobody’s fool. He is a well-spoken, articulate guy. Beyond that, he knows that you find more dollar signs at the top of a rotation than you do at the backend of the bullpen. Through conversations with Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine, Bard has made it extremely clear that he sees himself in the rotation. At the same time, it should be said that Bard stated he would do whatever was best for the team. Now that the Sox have acquired both Mark Melancon (Muh-Lan-Son) and Andrew Bailey, it seems as though their set-up man and closer are in place. And they came at cheap money. According to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, the pair will make somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 million bucks next season…combined. In today’s market, even for teams like the Red Sox who spend up to and often over the luxury tax threshold, acquiring players who are under team control for low dollars are vital. Props to Ben Cherington. So what does this now mean for Bard?
I have flipped. I have flopped. And now it seems as though I am flipping again. Bard wants to start, and the Red Sox need a starter (actually they need two). In his career, Bard has tossed just south of 200 innings, the hallmark number for a starter who makes right around 30 starts in a given year. Last year, Bard pumped out 73 innings for the Sox. He will have plenty of time to get stretched out, but assuming he can give the Red Sox 200 innings would be asinine. In an ideal scenario, the Sox should look for Bard to give them 140-160 innings in 2012. It is enticing to extrapolate the performance Bard gives in the late innings of ballgames over the course of a given year if he gets the ball every fifth day. However, it is important for fans to temper their expectations. The training wheels will be on. Bard will often come out of games when his pitch count is relatively low. He may dazzle for four innings, walk a batter or two, and get yanked. Frustration is almost a certainty. I hate to even bring up the butcher job the Yankees did with Joba Chamberlain, but Bard, like Chamberlain was, is a young stud who throws hard and is currently in the purgatory between the bullpen and the rotation.
Ultimately, I see the Red Sox collecting some empty cans, heading to the redemption center, and snagging a low-end starting pitcher in January to fill out the rotation. The wishful-thinking Red Sox fan hopes for Roy Oswalt, but the realistic Sox supporter sees Joe Saunders entering the fold. Despite stretching him out to be a starter, Aceves will end up returning to the bullpen where his value as a hybrid pitcher is sky high. What does this all mean? Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz will be forced to shoulder an extremely heavy load, just as three relatively well- paid starters should be.
Thank you to baseball-reference.com for providing the statistics used in this blog.