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Red Sox Rebuild Bullpen in Free Agency: Welcome Wheeler & Jenks

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One moment, you’re flabbergasted and frustrated with how the Red Sox approached the 2011 free agent market (particularly, not putting up the big bucks to re-sign Victor Martinez) and not making any big moves in general. The next minute, you’re talking about the home town team being a championship contender again. My, how fast things can change around here. And for the better.

The much welcomed trade for the long sought after 28-year-old San Diego Padres power-hitting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez happened earlier this month, and the Sox only had to give up one top flight prospect (Casey Kelly) and a couple of other promising prospects to get him. Outfielder/infielder Eric Patterson later rounded out the trade as the “player to be named later.” But more importantly, the Sox quietly got him to unofficially agree to a seven-year extension totaling $154 million.

I say “unofficially” because the Sox, who will owe $1.49 million in payroll luxury taxes for the 2010 season, aren’t making it official until April to avoid more luxury tax implications. This runs the risk of Gonzalez changing his mind by then, but an upgrade of $6.3 million in 2011 (via an option with bonus money San Diego excercised before he was traded) to an annual average salary of $22 million on a winning franchise should be enough to keep him here longterm.

Then there was the surprise free agent signing of (now former) Tampa Bay Rays star outfielder Carl Crawford for seven years at $142 million. WIth Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia expected back healthy by next spring training, this makes the Boston Red Sox one of the most dangerous lineups in all of baseball again, top to bottom (with the exception of the catching spot, where Jason Varitek will be back for cheap dollars and share starts with youngster Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will get a chance to break out). 

With the offense and starting pitching all set for next season, the only big question remaining was what GM Theo Epstein would do to repair the lousy BoSox bullpen. Within the past week, he added Crawford’s former Tampa Bay teammate (righty) Dan Wheeler for one year and a second year option, and then former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. Those are two BIG gets. The other new names added to the bullpen include former Orioles pitcher Matt Albers and lefties Andrew Miller and Lenny DiNardo (who is making his second go-around with Boston).

WIth Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, Dustin Richardson and Manny Delcarmen all gone, it is really going to be a nearly whole new bullpen, with the exception of reliever Scott Atchison, closer Jonathan Papelbon (who could be traded this upcoming year since he will be a free agent in 2012) and stud setup man (and closer in waiting) Daniel Bard.

But is it a championship-caliber bullpen now? Not yet, but it looks a heck of a lot better now on paper than the cast of characters that made up last year’s revolving door of unreliable arms. Wheeler, a New England native via Rhode Island, comes to Boston having been one of Tampa Bay’s best relievers in recent years, while Jenks has seen his ERA go up to the 4.00s and save numbers go down, even though he’s consistently saved at least 27 games per year since 2006.

How Jenks, who is signed for two years at $12 million, will adjust to being a setup guy along with Bard and occasional closer when Pap needs a night off is unclear. Let’s just hope he handles his new duties better than Eric Gagne did in 2007.

These are all welcomed moves (though losing out on signing former Twins reliever Jesse Crain to the White Sox was a bummer). The only exception is the recent trade with Florida of Dustin Richardson for lefty Andrew Miller, which doesn’t make much sense.

Apparently, the Sox want a mediocre veteran lefty in Miller, who has a career 5.84 ERA through five seasons instead of a younger, inexperienced arm like Richardson’s, even though the latter was at least decent with a career 3.31 ERA in 29 games with Boston over the last two seasons. The Sox must view Miller as a long man or spot starter, but they already have that in Tim Wakefield. So, who knows what their real plans are for him.

Rumors have been going on since the July 31, 2010, deadline that the Red Sox are interested in getting Justin Masterson back in Boston from Cleveland. If they can pull that off this offseason, that would be one more satisfactory step toward a well-rounded bullpen. Masterson had his best major league success there, with a career ERA of 3.30 as a reliever versus 4.57 as a starter since 2008 when he made his debut with the Sox.

So, with four new arms (plus the return of DiNardo, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009 and is signed only to a minor-league deal), the Red Sox have already come a long way but still have a few moves left to go before they look to have a truly fearsome bullpen again.

Photo credit: hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Charlie, the Sox have had a fantastic winter thus far. It puts the Yanks to shame. And there were articles today in the New York papers with Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman blaming it all on the failed bid for Cliff Lee.

    Looks like the Red Sox will be the team to beat in the East, meaning the Yanks have to hope for a wild card.