Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Power Plays

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On Wednesday, the Red Sox officially addressed an area of surplus. They have a closer. Andrew Bailey is injury-plagued. There is no debating that. But he is a legitimate ninth inning pitcher, a former All-Star with 81 saves on his resume. The bottom line is that GM Ben Cherington did not need to bring in a proven closer this offseason.

But he did.

Joel Hanrahan was traded by the Pirates to the Red Sox in a six-player swap that will also send reliever Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh. The Red Sox still have not come to terms with free agent Mike Napoli, leaving a vacancy at first base. They remain shallow in the outfield with Jonny Gomes likely needing a platoon-mate that can do damage against hit right handed pitching. Clearly, Cherington still has several areas of need to address, yet he chose to actively pursue adding a late-inning arm to a bullpen that already has Bailey and Koji Uehara.


The answer has everything to do with Daniel Bard.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Red Sox possessed two of the game’s absolute best in the eighth and ninth innings. Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were a powerful one-two punch that helped former manager Terry Francona win more than a few games during the final segment of his tenure in Boston. Both Bard and Papelbon threw hard and threw strikes. The pair represented exactly what every team wants at the end of games.

In the offseason that followed the 2011 season, Papelbon left Boston for Philadelphia. Bard, who, despite fatiguing down the stretch for the Red Sox in ’11, seemed tailor-made for the closer role in 2012. His powerful stuff played well in the late innings of ballgames. Fans were used to watching him wiggle out of high leverage situations, using his fastball that consistently registered well above 95 MPH to blow away hitters on the regular.

But then the Red Sox got cheap, and Bard got a little greedy.

Cherington and the rest of baseball operations understood the potential payoff of converting Bard to a starter. Let’s face it — Bard made roughly $1.6MM in 2012. Good luck getting Hiroki Kuroda to pitch for your team for that salary. At the same time, Bard knew that starting pitchers do not need to pitch at the level of a Justin Verlander or a Clayton Kershaw to get paid. Pick up the phone and give Edwin Jackson a buzz. He will tell you all about his four-year $52MM deal that the Cubs gave him last week.

It was a perfect storm. Bard wanted to start, and the Red Sox saw it as a cost-efficient opportunity to fill a vacancy in the rotation.

Bard performed miserably as a starter. His outing on Sunday June 3 in Toronto was the breaking point of the experiment. In an inning and two-thirds, Bard walked six Blue Jays and plunked two others. It was like watching the goriest of horror movies, when one is only able to catch a glimpse of the television screen between fingers as their hands shielded their face. It was that bad. The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately earned Bard a demotion to Pawtucket and a question mark when it comes to where he fits on this team in 2013.

The Red Sox subsequently spent their second straight offseason looking for ways to plug the gaping holes left by both Papelbon and Bard. Had the latter embraced the role of closer in the same fashion the former did, the Red Sox would likely not be participating in the annual game of bullpen pick ‘em. If Cherington and Co. had recognized that Bard’s stuff as well as his mentality is best suited at the end of ballgames, Hanrahan may not have been a trade target this offseason.

Removing Bard from the bullpen created quite a large void for the Red Sox–one that was only amplified by his abject failure as a starter. Since then, Cherington has been searching for that power arm that is almost always needed at the end of games. Simply put, swing and miss stuff limits the amount of balls that are put in play, and Bard certainly racked up a great deal of punch outs as a set-up man.

The addition of Hanrahan is yet another example of how poor baseball decisions can negatively impact a club for years down the road. Hanrahan’s performance in 2013, good or bad, will serve as a reminder of how sorely Bard is missed in the Boston bullpen and how desperately Cherington has searched for someone to anchor it.

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12 thoughts on “Power Plays

  1. A really thoughtful entry, Dan. I hadn’t put all the pieces together in that way.

    • Hi Professor. Thanks a lot for the comment. There are likely more than just one thing at play in the Red Sox pursuit of bullpen arms, but I thought this was an interesting take. Bard was just such a valuable piece that is now just kind of forgotten about.

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  3. Alex f. on said:

    Awesome column, Dan.. In my opinion, the hanrahan trade makes sense in that you can establish one of the best bullpens in the game (an aceves, morales, miller, tazawa, uehara, baily hanrahan bullpen looks pretty solid on paper) advancing the chances of a wild card shot.. Also consider the flexability provided to them, should they fall off.. Everyone’s looking for semi inexpensive bullpen pieces at the deadline.. Acquire more prospects for the Jackie Bradley boegarts de la rosa/Webster teams were sure to see in a couple years.. Where they lost me on the deal is including pimentel.. I didn’t think trading quality young pitching was part of the plan for a guy on a one year deal..

    My question to you though is, how do you see bard fitting in this year? Is it worth trying to allow him to regain his form as a setup man, when the team looks so “set up man heavy” right now? Or will the sox give the “hey he throws gas and has potential, lets make him a starter” thing another shot?

    • Alex, first of all thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a solid comment. I agree with much of what you said, especially with regards the ability to turn Hanrahan or another quality bullpen piece into a nice profit at the deadline should the circumstances dictate that to be a fruitful move.
      Pimentel was once highly regarded but has fallen off in recent years. His numbers in Double-A Portland are quite poor ( More importantly, he is almost out of options. I believe he has one left. This move made some sense for the Red Sox on a couple of different fronts. First, Hanrahan is good, walk issues aside. Second, it cleared some space on the 40-man roster. Small market teams have more patience for guys to develop. The Red Sox, on the other hand, demand quick, sustained production out of their prospects or they’ll be replaced with free agents.

      Lastly, on Bard, who knows? What I do know (or at least think I know) is that Bard is not a starter. I think he knows that as well. I have a hard time believing he begins the year anywhere else but Pawtucket.

      • stephen corsaro on said:

        Daniel Bard was made a reliever in the minors for a reason, but his problem didn’t start with the switch to starter. It started with the slider. Some guys aren’t starters because they can’t throw multiple pitches without completely screwing up their mechanics. Cascade memory types from person to person aren’t the same. ” someone ” was on to that fact early on but I guess that someone wasn’t involved in the decision or maybe just was ignored. Now he needs a rebuild. Unlearning that involves cascade memory is a lot more difficult than you can possibly imagine.

  4. Great article Dan!! Again, why do Sox need more arms when they have other bigger issues to deal with? And if you trade with the Pirates, why not get Garrett Jones back in the trade? In 2012 Jones played half his games at 1B and half in OF… EXACTLY what Sox need!! He is L-handed and he hit .888 OPS vs R-handed pitching!! He could platoon with Gomes…OR he could platoon with Gomez (if Napoli signing falls apart). And Pirates don’t need him!! They just traded with the Marlins for ex-All Star 1B G Sanchez and now they have Sands…and they have Tabata, Presley, Harrison, and Sands as FOUR outfield BACK-UPS!! Lets get 1B and a L-handed outfielder figured out first!!…or does Ben already have a plan to move Bailey, Aceves and a catcher for a major missing piece?

    • David, sorry for my late response. I typed out a reply, but I guess it must not have posted. Either way, thank you for writing in this space. The point on Jones is a pretty good one. I like the thought there. I’m also fine with clearing some clutter on the 40-man for a quality bullpen arm. I think that the Red Sox are in pretty good position to make a trade before the same as well as during it. Good points again, David. Thanks for reading.

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  7. Brian NV on said:

    I think Bard has a better than average shot at starting the year in Boston in a middle-inning/low-leverage role, provided he shows that he can throw strikes in spring training. You have to believe that he’s busting his tail this winter to get back to where he was before the experiment. If not, then all bets are off but he seems like a thoughtful, hard-working kid. To start him off in Pawtucket after a good spring would be throwing all of his past achievements out the window and essentially laying the blame for the failed experiment entirely on him, which would be both unfair and unwise.

    • Brian, thank you for commenting. I agree with the large part of your comment. I like Bard. However, there are roster concerns. The Red Sox aren’t going to just put Bard in Boston because they don’t want to hurt his feelings. At the same time, if he has a good spring, and the team moves a bullpen arm or two, I could see him starting in the majors. If I had to bet, I would say Pawtucket is his likely landing spot.

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