Reports coming out of Red Sox camp are that Andrew Bailey will need surgery to repair his injured thumb. Bailey will be back, but the Red Sox find themselves in the difficult position of picking a part-time closer to start the 2012 regular season. There’s no way to know right now if Bailey will be out for two weeks or two months. Either way, the Red Sox have some decisions to make. Here’s a look at the potential short-term fill-ins:
Most likely candidates
Alfredo Aceves: Aceves has proven himself valuable as a starter and a reliever. His versatility could be stretched further if Bobby Valentine tags him as the team’s short-term closer. The upside to this scenario is Aceves has shown he can excel in any role. The downside is it takes a strong arm out the middle of an already thin Red Sox bullpen. Aceves was great coming out of the pen last season posting a 2.61 ERA in 55 games. Aceves had his eyes set on a spot in the starting five but he’s proving to be a valuable asset in all aspects of Boston’s pitching staff.
Mark Melancon: Melancon is slated to be the Red Sox primary set-up man this season. Melancon could be leaned upon to fill the void Bailey would leave behind. Aceves could stay in normal role out of the pen or provide Boston with further stability as a short-term set-up man. Melancon has had success closing games before. Last season, pitching for Houston, Melancon posted a 2.78 ERA with 20 saves.
Michael Bowden: Actually, let’s call this an extreme long shot. But if the Red Sox don’t want to shuffle their bullpen too much, Bowden could be a nice short-term fill in for the Red Sox. Bowden posted a strong 7.7 strikeout rate per nine innings last season but also showed control problems. Throwing Bowden out there in the ninth would be a huge gamble, but it’s also the kind of move I wouldn’t put past Valentine.
Daniel Bard: With Bailey injured, Bard seems like the best potential closer the Red Sox have left. Bard has the electric stuff to dominate the ninth inning. He was already one of the premier set-up men in baseball and could slide into the closer role for the short-term. But the Red Sox have spent all spring grooming Bard to take a spot in the rotation, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll abandon that project now.
These options are fine for Boston if Bailey can make a quick return to the team. If Bailey’s thumb nags him all season, the Red Sox have a potential huge hurdle to overcome before the season even starts.
Contributor: Brian Hendrickson