A bullpen tends to have a lot of turnover given the volatility of the position. The truly excellent relievers tend to graduate to being a closer, while major leaguers with an average baseline of talent can find themselves out of baseball after a season or two of terrible luck. The fact that Rich Garces spent seven years with Boston is a testament, then, to his durability. The only sad thing is: his major league career ended in 2002 at just age 31.
First things first. Garces is not a lifelong Red Sox player, as you might have otherwise assumed. His age 19 and 22 seasons were spent with the Minnesota Twins, not even amassing 10 total innings between the two years. In 1995, at age 24, Garces signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs and appeared out of their bullpen before being claimed off waivers from the Marlins.
1996 is when Garces joined Boston, and when he would forever establish himself as a cult figure in the town, being known as ‘El Guapo.’
In Spanish, the name means “The Handsome One.” It was originally given to Garces by teammate Mike Maddux (now one of the top three pitching coaches in the game) because of his resemblance to the villian in ¡Three Amigos! Of course, following this, the nickname took on a “jokey” type of connotation. For there’s no mistaking it — El Guapo is large. Very large.
Even the pictures don’t do quite the job of capturing how large Guapo is. At times, he seemed larger than life with his positive attitude and brimming smile. For the first couple years of Guapo’s tenure, he shuttled between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket. Beginning in 1998, flashes started showing that Garces could be an impact reliever. Then 1999 arrived.
In 1999, Guapo posted a 1.55 ERA in 40.2 innings, becoming one of the premier setupmen in the league. The next two years registered the requisite increase in workload, and although Garces was still very good, he never captured the magic of 1999 again.
In 2000, Garces threw 74.2 innings, walking 23 and whiffing out 69. Giving up just 64 hits, he logged a 3.25 ERA. Things got a bit tougher in 2001, when Garces posted a 3.90 ERA while posting a K/BB ratio of 51/25 in 67 innings.
The pressure to lose weight had gotten enough. Listed at a laughably low 215 lbs., the organization forced Garces to slim down. Slim down, he did.
His 2002 numbers: 7.59 ERA, 12 walks, 16 strikeouts, 21.1 innings, the end of his major league career. (He would go on to have brief minor league appearances with Colorado and Boston again in 2005 before settling in as a novelty on the independent pitching circuit.)
Part of Garces’ problem in 2002 was his four home runs served up, after only six the previous year and seven the last. Those four home runs represent a streak of bad luck that could have prolonged his big-league career. Oh, sure, he likely never would have been a legitimate setupman again, but given his FIP was 6.01 (and FIP relies on home runs allowed), he could have extended his career a few more years. Of course, there are those that believe his weight loss was the reason for the decline. I won’t decline that, but the home runs allowed sure didn’t help.
All told, Garces appeared in 152 games for Boston from 2000-2. His ERA was 4.09, pitching 163 frames of baseball with 136 punchouts and a 1.23 WHIP. While Garces’ numbers, believe it or not, rank near the top of Red Sox relievers (closers not included) in the decade, Garces also makes the team based on what he meant to the fans. You can’t have a Team of the Decade without honoring those that endeared themselves to fans, and “El Guapo” certainly did just that.