First it was Nomar Garciaparra. Now it's Alan Embree. Is GM Theo Epstein trying to recapture the magic of the 2004 Championship Boston Red Sox team with these signings? Not exactly, since Nomar's March 9 signing was a symbolic (if not out of left field) one-day deal meant for the former beloved Sox shortstop to make peace and retire the way he always wanted to: as a Red Sox player.
And 40-year-old Embree? Sure, the Sox could use a veteran lefty reliever to help out Hideki Okajima and add more depth to a veteran-heavy bullpen. But Embree has a rod in his right leg that’s being held by three screws as a result of it being broken by a line drive last July 11 vs. Atlanta at Coors Field while pitching for Colorado. The Sox, rather than taking a chance with young, inexperienced arms like lefty Fabio Castro (who is still on the active roster), apparently liked what they saw in Embree's offseason workouts enough to offer him a minor league deal almost one week ago.
Alan Embree has 882 career games to his name, sixth among active pitchers, and was once a pivotal force in Boston's 2004 bullpen (along with Mike Timlin and closer Keith Foulke). But his career hardly has any big highlights after that season, as his over-7.00 ERA in 2005 sent him out of Boston.
There’s no guarantee Embree will be ready for the bigs by Opening Day versus the Yankees on Easter Sunday night, but he will be given a shot by manager Terry Francona soon after. And whenever that is, he will be wearing his old uniform number, No. 43, in addition to being the old man of the bullpen. That worked for Mike Timlin for several years. But I'm not expecting much from Embree, even though I'll root like hell for him to be one of the American League's biggest comeback stories.
Speaking of comebacks, on March 21 Dice-K had his first game action, a minor league intrasquad game, since the end of last season. He threw 32 pitches, 18 for strikes, retired seven of eight, and his fastball ranged from 88 to 91 mph. Yesterday, he made his Grapefruit League debut against Florida in relief of Tim Wakefield (3-1, 3.66 ERA), who gave up a respectable three runs in six innings of work. Dice-K didn't look too sharp but gave up just two hits in two innings, including an RBI triple to Florida CF Cameron Maybin.
Matsuzaka is still a long way from being ready for the games that count and will likely start the season on the DL. And the happiest person in that clubhouse will be Clay Buchholz, who will gladly take that fifth spot in the starting rotation, at least for the time being.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old righty who relieved Dice-K to get his first save of the spring yesterday, Atchison has been under the radar for much of training camp, but shouldn't be for long. Though one shouldn't put too much stock in ST numbers, Atchison's 1.86 ERA in eight relief outings stands out for me and could be a big reason why he will make the Opening Day roster, while the likes Boof Bonser and Junichi Tazawa won't.
Last pitching in the majors with San Francisco in 2007, Atchison actually signed a minor league deal with the Sox after that season but went with better opportunities in Japan the next two years. Epstein never took his eye off this fastball/slider pitcher, though. After seeing him rack up a solid a 2.77 ERA in his short career pitching in highly competitive baseball games in Japan, the Sox took a can't-lose chance on the pitcher as soon as this past offseason's winter meetings got underway, signing him to a one-year deal for just $420,000. In 53 career appearances in the majors over three seasons, his ERA is a respectable 4.10.
Since we know what to expect from most members of the 2010 Red Sox, I'm willing to say Scott Atchison is poised to be one of Boston's most surprising success stories of the early season, the way Ramon S. Ramirez was in 2009 (until his second half dip). With Jonathan Papelbon, Okajima, flame thrower Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen, Ramirez, and Atchison, the Sox have a top notch bullpen to go with one of the deepest starting staffs in baseball. Let the games begin already!