- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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On each weekday until baseball’s GM meetings Nov. 7, we will spotlight one key decision the Red Sox need to make this offseason that will help determine the success or failure of the 2013 team.
Today’s topic: How can the Red Sox beef up the bullpen?
For the majority of the 2012 season, the Red Sox’s bullpen did its job and was one of the bright spots during a dismal season, despite ranking 11th of 14 American League teams in relief ERA (3.88). Boston’s rotational struggles forced relievers into action sooner than the team would have liked on most nights. As a result, the Red Sox finished sixth in the AL in innings pitched by relievers. The Red Sox bullpen fanned 475, which ranked fourth in the league.
Defining the decision: Add from internal options or shop for free agents?
More than any other part of the team, the bullpen should be in good shape moving forward.
If Andrew Bailey is healthy, he will be the team’s closer. Bailey missed the majority of the 2012 season, his first in Boston, due to a thumb injury he suffered during spring training that needed surgery. He returned in late August and finished with six saves in 19 games (15 1/3 innings).
High on John Farrell’s to-do list will be to help right-hander Daniel Bard return to dominance as a late-inning guy. For 2 1/2 seasons, Bard was considered one of the best eighth-inning pitchers in the game, compiling a combined 2.88 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 197 innings from 2009 to 2011.
But in 2012 he lost his way after transitioning to the starting rotation, failing miserably in that role, and then stumbling again after returning to Triple-A and eventually the majors in a relief role. To put his struggles in perspective, consider this: He walked 72 batters in 91 1/3 innings between the PawSox and Red Sox in 2012. From 2009 to 2011, he walked just 76 in 197 innings. New manager (and former Red Sox pitching coach) Farrell believes Bard can be salvaged. If he’s correct, Bard could be one of the biggest additions the team could make this winter.
Right-hander Alfredo Aceves was the team’s closer for most of 2012 and recorded 25 saves in 69 games (84 innings). A late-season suspension and demotion soured his relationship with the team, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back. He is still under the organization’s control and Farrell said he is impressed with his versatility. If Aceves is not converted into a starter, he could serve as the team’s long reliever, a role in which he thrived in 2011.
Right-hander Junichi Tazawa is in a similar situation as Aceves and could work as either a starter or reliever. Tazawa ranked second in the AL among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched with a 1.47 ERA and allowed only seven earned runs in 44 innings. He struck out 45 and walked only five during that stretch, which was the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors (minimum of 40 IP).
Miller in particular will be an important piece to the puzzle again in 2013. He was outstanding last season and held opposing left-handed hitters to a .149 average, allowing just one extra-base hit by a lefty all season. He stranded 39 of 46 inherited runners and recorded a new career single-season mark with 13 holds.
Option A: Add to the rotation externally; use internal assets in bullpen
The bullpen’s makeup depends largely on what the Red Sox add to the rotation. If the Sox add a couple of quality arms to the starting staff, that would mean guys like Morales, Aceves and Tazawa could stay in the bullpen.
No doubt Aceves would be a solid starter, but the Red Sox would be better off keeping him in the bullpen because of his ability to work multiple innings.
The idea of adding some younger arms is also an intriguing option for Boston. Rubby De La Rosa, the 23-year-old right-hander the Red Sox acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers, is considered a starter but could be a reliable reliever for the Red Sox.
Option B: Add short-term, short-money relievers via free agency
If the Red Sox decide to fill the rotational vacancies internally (Morales? Aceves? Tazawa?), that could force them to look to the free-agent market to round out the bullpen.
Among the intriguing options available are Jonathan Broxton and Joakim Soria, both of whom are former closers who will be looking to cash in. It’s more likely the Sox would fill the available slots with short-term, short-money contracts.
Long shot: Shake it up and add Soriano
Now here’s something really interesting. With Rafael Soriano opting out of the final year of his contract ($14 million) with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox could pursue the 32-year-old right-hander who notched 42 saves in 45 opportunities filling in for Mariano Rivera in 2012.
This truly would be a long shot, however, because the Yankees would still make a qualifying offer, which means Boston would lose its first-round pick and New York would gain a “sandwich” pick. Soriano is also surely looking for a closing gig, which currently is unavailable in Boston (unless the Sox decide Bailey isn’t their guy).
Plus, can you picture Ben Cherington spending upward of $14 million per season for a reliever?
Your turn: What's the best option for the Red Sox?
We’ve outlined some possibilities, now tell us what you would do if you were in Ben’s shoes. Vote in the poll above and leave your more detailed thoughts in the comments section.
4hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com
6hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com
11hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com
2dESPN Stats & Information