Flashback to the off-season and you’d find high praise for former Chicago White Sox player Bobby Jenks. The portly closer must have impressed the Boston brain trust, prompting Theo Epstein to ink Jenks to a two-year, $12 million contract. Adding Jenks to the back of a bullpen already anchored by Josh Bard and Jonathan Papelbon gave the Sox three closer-types heading into the 2011 season.
There were even whispers that his acquisition made the re-signing of Papelbon less likely, with the expectation that Bard was the heir apparent closer and Jenks was capable of bridging the gap in the eighth.
The ninth inning specialist didn’t exactly part on amicable terms from the Windy City. He and manager Ozzie Guillen had a very public war of words. The feud even escalated to Ozzie’s son posting tweets criticizing Jenks’ pitching efforts and relationship with his teammates. It got so bad Terry Francona tried to intercede and put a stop to the quarrel. As spring training rolled around, things seemed to cool off, and the Red Sox were ready to welcome Jenks to what was tabbed in preseason as one of the strongest pens in baseball.
After starting the season with three hitless appearances, Jenks seemed to be one of the lone bright spots on a drastically underachieving team. In his fourth time out, Jenks imploded, working just one out while allowing four runs to come across. At a time the Sox really could have used a victory, Jenks failed. Things seemed to spiral out of control from there; he allowed six runs in his next six appearances.
For the sake of John Henry’s wallet, let’s hope the poor performance was due to health and not an indication of what is in store for the rest of the season. The Boston Globe reports Jenks suffers from a bicep strain and tendonitis, earning him a trip to the 15-day DL. The Sox have 12 million reasons to hope the injury caused his collapse. If his 2.54 WHIP doesn’t improve upon his return, Theo will definitely be rethinking how he spent his money — perhaps wondering if it would have been better spent on the likes of Kerry Wood or Grant Balfour, both better suited to the set-up role than Jenks.
As for Bard and Papelbon, I’d say their jobs won’t be in jeopardy any time soon. Outside of a couple shaky outings, Bard seems to be having no issues getting through the eighth inning. Since Jenks hit the DL, Bard has allowed just two hits in 6.1 IP, dropping his ERA to 2.89. Papelbon has been cruising so far this year, as well. He has just one blown save, the product of a Texas Leaguer that scored an inherited runner.
Even injury replacement Matt Albers has pitched adequately since rejoining the pen. Since May 1, he has quietly amassed nine strikeouts in 8.1 IP and two holds. Albers had one blemish, a loss on Tuesday to Toronto. Compare his $875,000 price tag to the $6 million on Jenks. Bill James must have some formula for valuing those kinds of numbers, but I can’t help but think those $6 million dollars should have been used to address other needs.
At the moment, the bullpen has stabilized, thanks to contributions from Papelbon, Bard, Albers and a rejuvenated Hideki Okajima. It’ll be interesting to see how Tito uses Jenks once he’s healthy. I’d say exploring trade options for him wouldn’t be out of the question. Play-off contenders are always looking for an extra bullpen arm. Maybe package him and Jed Lowrie or a Josh Reddick for some catching help. Then again, I doubt they’ll have too many teams beating down the door for a $6 million clubhouse distraction whose best days look to be behind him.