CLEVELAND -- The price for Red Sox mistakes in the bullpen is rising.
Let’s see, it was two years of Andrew Bailey for $8 million. One year of Joel Hanrahan for $7.040 million. And now two years of Edward Mujica for $9.5 million. And unlike Bailey and Hanrahan, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries, Mujica hasn’t played the hurt card -- yet.
With the spectacular exception of Koji Uehara and impressive work of Burke Badenhop, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has received anything but relief from the pitchers he thought would bring succor to the Sox bullpen. Shorten succor by a syllable and add an –ed, and you get a truer, if not vulgar, portrait of how Cherington’s chosen few have performed since coming to the Sox.
After Mujica’s latest fiasco, giving up a three-run walk-off home run to Asdrubal Cabrera at 2:02 a.m. in a rain-delayed, 7-4 loss in 12 innings to the Cleveland Indians, it is fair to ask the question every pun-loving Sox fan has been dying to ask: Is this the last of the Mujica?
All of the numbers except one suggest that Mujica is a prime candidate for the same fate that befell former Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves earlier this week -- Aceves was designated for assignment by the Yankees with a 6.52 ERA in 10 appearances.
Mujica’s earned run average is now 7.28; he has allowed 17 earned runs in 21 innings. He has given up 28 hits and 7 walks, and opposing hitters have a .485 average against his fastball. He has been throwing fewer splitters, his signature pitch, though it was a hanging split that Cabrera rocketed over the fence Wednesday, a fan reaching over and grabbing the ball before it landed in the bullpen. Nearly 40 percent of the hits he has allowed have gone for extra bases, including five home runs. His seven walks are two more than he issued all of last season.
So, what has allowed Mujica to keep his place in the Sox pen? Well, he had pitched better of late, running off five straight scoreless appearances. But for a man who came into the season expecting to share the eighth-inning load with fellow right-hander Junichi Tazawa, Mujica has increasingly become the option of last report.
But while the Sox have any number of options with whom to replace Mujica, especially after Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront find their way back to the roster, which would make instant candidates of Brandon Workman and Alex Wilson, there’s the financial component to consider. All of Mujica’s money, because it is a multiyear deal, is guaranteed. And Mujica is out of options, making it problematic to send him to the minors.
It would hardly come as a shock if Mujica were to admit to a physical issue; he had shoulder fatigue at the end of last season and the average velocity of his fastball is down nearly two miles per hour from last season. A trip to the disabled list could be in order.
Otherwise, Cherington is fast approaching a decision on whether to eat $9.5 million, and that’s never a happy option.