Bard To Bullpen?
BARD MORE VALUABLE AS A STARTER, DESPITE BULLPEN WOES
Their teams, I think you would agree, were all happy they made the switch.
Now I'm not saying Bard will be as good as any of these pitchers, but people who know a lot more about these things than I do think he has a very high ceiling as a starting pitcher. And the Red Sox are determined to find out, (1) because of the scarcity of quality starting pitching and (2) developing your own pitching can save you a boatload of money -- cash you can then turn around and spend on elite position players (think Adrian Gonzalez) who are much safer risks than high-priced, free-agent pitchers.
A couple walk-off losses in the season's first three games are not going to persuade the Red Sox to abandon that carefully crafted plan and return Bard to the bullpen. That won't happen until they give Bard a chance to prove his worth as a starter, which he is highly confident he will do.
Alfredo Aceves did a terrific job out of the bullpen last season. It's almost inconceivable that he has yet to retire any of the five batters he has faced as closer, but the facts speak for themselves. Does that mean he can't close? No. The Sox can ill-afford to give away more games, especially when playoff spots are likely to be determined by the thinnest of margins, but Aceves has not yet forfeited his chance to prove he can do the job.
And Bard will give the Sox a much better chance of returning to the playoffs as a reliable starter than by returning to the 'pen. At least, that's the position the Sox should hold on to for now. Let manager Bobby Valentine mix and match until he finds the right combination, go outside the system if need be, but leave Bard where he is.
RED SOX SHOULD SPELL RELIEF 'B-A-R-D'
Don't give him a few trips through the rotation and see how it goes. Don't even run him out to the mound Tuesday in Toronto. Just bring him back to the bullpen, Bobby V, and do it now.
Yes, Bard has the ability, passion and makeup to be a starter. And yes, the Sox made a commitment to that conversion late last year. But where is there a bigger need? Do the Sox need a No. 5 starter as much as a centerpiece to a bullpen that's floundering without Andrew Bailey? The answer, in this view, is as clear as day.
Former Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon found himself in a similar position before the 2007 season. During spring training, the Red Sox were transitioning Papelbon from closer to starter when Pap saw a void (in part because of an injury to Mike Timlin) and asked to be put back in the bullpen.
The Red Sox need Bard to speak up in a similar way to fill a similar void, and they need him to do it soon.
Moving Bard back to the bullpen would conveniently open up a rotation spot for Aaron Cook, who threw seven shutout innings for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday and appears ready for a return to the bigs (don't forget, he has a May 1 opt-out clause). Sure, he wouldn't be able to pitch Tuesday to take Bard's place, but that's a short-term problem. The issue with the Sox bullpen as it's currently constructed threatens the long-term success of the team.
The answer is simple: Move Bard back to the bullpen. Insert Cook into the No. 5 spot in the rotation. It's a decisive solution to a pressing problem.