Red Sox preview, part II: Boston bullpen in 2012
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Though the lineup for the Red Sox in 2012 does not require an enormous overhaul so much as it needs to be supplemented by a more capable cast of supporting characters – an everyday shortstop, another right-handed bat, and a stronger bench – the opposite can be said for the bullpen.
Overall, the “addition by subtraction” mentality Cherington seems to have adopted already in terms of the relievers – not picking up the options for Dan Wheeler and Scott Atchison, and conceding Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia – is a good start towards fixing the most glaring weakness for the Red Sox over the past five years. Unfortunately, Wheeler was supposed to help stop the bleeding last year when Theo addressed the relief issues, but seemed almost invisible through most of the season. The same can be said for Bobby Jenks, though he was injured for most of the year.
These injuries left Matt Albers, Daniel Bard and Papelbon, as well as Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield (when they weren’t making elongated spot starts), as the remaining options in the bullpen. Eventually, the weakness of the bullpen was exposed due to the inability of Red Sox starters to go deep in games. As a result, solidifying the bullpen in a significant way, the way they have with the lineup, is a necessity for the Red Sox to be competitive in the American League, let alone win another World Series.
Though I feel Papelbon will be abundantly successful in Philadelphia, as the National League has always favored pitchers and Papelbon will benefit from facing new hitters, his time in Boston had run its course. After two disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, which were both directly impacted by Papelbon’s inability to close out games, the All-Star reliever returned to form in 2011, blowing only one save over the course of the summer. Unfortunately, he could not maintain this resurgence in September and blew two critical games against Baltimore at the end of the year. As a result of such meaningful shortcomings, he became too much of liability for the Red Sox, as he will eventually become in Philadelphia, unless he can incorporate another breaking ball into his repertoire.
Replacing Pap is a necessity in 2012; unfortunately, the answer is not going to come from “in house.” Given Papelbon’s seven losses and six blown saves in 2010, Daniel Bard entered the 2011 regular season much as Tim Tebow did with the Denver Broncos: one bad showing away from the everyday job. However, Papelbon didn’t stumble until July and retained the job. Now, with Papelbon out of Boston, Bard seems to be the obvious choice to succeed him. Bard, however, posted 11 decisions in 2011, nine of them resulting in losses. When many criticized Wakefield being allowed so many opportunities to surpass the 200 win mark, often it was Bard’s inefficiency that blew the opportunity. Bard still has value, but for the moment, it should only be showcased in a setup role.
One proven closer the Red Sox do have is Jenks, who closed out 173 games in Chicago, as well as another four in the 2005 postseason, en route to a World Series title. However, those numbers dropped off considerably after 2007 when Jenks hit his high-water mark of 41 saves followed by another 40 in 2008. Since then, Jenks has failed to save more than 30 games in a given season. Papelbon, despite seven losses, still had 37 saves in 2010. This is not to say that Jenks is not a candidate for the closing role going into spring training, but the continued recurrence of a back injury that sidelined him at the end of 2010 and throughout most of 2011 makes it hard to trust him as a long-term option.
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