The Red Sox’s bullpen increased in size with the inking of Joel Pineiro to a one-year, $4 million contract. This means that the competition for the final one or two spots in the bullpen is now a lot tighter. The Red Sox will probably carry 12 pitchers until they can get their bullpen sorted out. Either way, 12 pitchers is probably a must in the American League East until the starting pitching can prove they can go deep into games like they have the promise to.
While this article is probably more appropriate for Spring Training because we can see for our own eyes the talent that each player brings and the quotes from the coaching staff, the bullpen possibilities are getting so large we should at least take a look at the bullpen as currently situated. Theo seems to be trying a different tack here, which is a merging of the 2003 bullpen-by-committee and 2004 amazing bullpen, while getting away from his 2005 “very very very low risk, possible high upside, but there’s a reason we got them so cheaply” mantra. I suppose you could draw similarities from the way Theo is building the 2007 bullpen and how he tried to build 2006.
In 2003, Theo attempted to go with a closer-by-committee, in which people got saves based on match-ups and many other factors. While this philosophy could have worked with someone more progressive than Grady Little, it still failed for a reason: relievers like roles. Relievers change roles all the time (new closers always spring up, don’t they?) but they like stability in a role even though they all aspire to “climb up the ladder.” In 2004, the Red Sox had an excellent bullpen that was anchored by Keith Foulke with the set-up tandem of Mike Timlin and Alan Embree. In 2005, Theo tried to throw relievers to the wall and see if they stuck. 2006 was more of the same, but he spent money to bring in people, and he’s done much of the same this year, although he has more to work with this year after learning from 2005 and bringing people along in 2005. He’s gone after the more high-end people who he knows will more than likely perform, such as Brendan Donnelly, who would have statistically been Boston’s best reliever in 2006. He’s also inked Joel Pineiro to $4 million, which could either turn Pineiro into a dazzling reliever or be an utter bust. I refuse to expect anything great (and conversely, anything bad) from Pineiro until he shows me. There are also low-risk acquisitions in Nick DeBarr (selected in the Rule 5 draft) and J.C. Romero (inked to a minor league deal). Here follows a full list of the relievers, arranged by category, their 2006 statistics, and my take on such.
Locks for the Team
RP: Brendan Donnelly – 2006 for LAA: 6 W – 0 L, 64.0 IP, 3.94 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .240 BAA. Donnelly would have been the best reliever on the Red Sox last year, but this past year saw a spike in ineffectiveness for Donnelly. Compare his 2006 numbers to his career line of a 2.87 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and .219 BAA. Donnelly isn’t heading down a slippery slope, but he’s no longer the elite set-up man he once was. He will be a vital cog in the 7th and 8th inning for the Red Sox, but I don’t see him returning to his previous dominating levels. He would be an above-average middle reliever if he was cast in that role, but he will be cast as a set-up man at the very least, and is a leading contender as closer.
RP: Hideki Okajima – 2006 for Japan’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham: 2-2, 54.2 IP, 2.14 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, BAA unavailable. Okajima, a lefty, is guaranteed a spot in the bullpen. The jury is completely out on how he can do, but I can’t foresee him starting the season in a high-leverage situation until he earns it. He should start out in the middle innings, and I’m sure he will get some work in the beginning of April, especially against the low-level teams such as Kansas City and Seattle.
RP: Joel Pineiro – 2006 for SEA: 8-13, 165.2 IP, 6.36 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .311 BAA. Four million dollars is a good way to guarantee yourself a spot on the team. As I said earlier, I refuse to expect anything dominating from him, but I also will not expect him to completely trash the place. I’m going to go off his 4.81 ERA as a reliever last year as a benchmark for what he can do, and it has been pointed out that he did only allow 19 hits and strike out 20 in 24.2 IP as a reliever. I fully expect him to be an average reliever for the duration of the year, then move on. Anything more is golden. Anything less and we will have to discuss releasing him. I did raise a conspiracy theory that this could enable Jonathan Papelbon to move to the closer’s spot and Pineiro into the #5 spot, and I’m still standing by it. Pineiro is a starter, and if the team sees that Papelbon is fully healthy, able to handle the rigors of a closer … it’s possible they make the switch. I’d love to see five aces in our rotation, but the Red Sox may feel four aces and an ace closer is better for 2007. (Okay, so they’re not all aces, but we do have a fantastic rotation right now.)
RP: Julian Tavarez – 2006 for BOS: 5-4, 98.2 IP, 4.47 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, .293 BAA. There’s a lot of residual good feelings left over by Tavarez’s fine job in stepping into the rotation and keeping the Red Sox (marginally) afloat in September. However, Tavarez still is what he is – an average middle reliever. Perhaps the additional year in the AL will help him, perhaps not. He should be fine in the middle relief role, and also is a candidate to close, but anyone who has a 4.47 ERA cannot close, so he will be required to make some significant steps forward.
RP: Mike Timlin – 2006 for BOS: 6-6, 64.0 IP, 4.36 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .305 BAA. Timlin started off well as always, but hit the wall in July, August and September. Despite saving seven games in September, Timlin is now shaky. The absence of the World Baseball Classic and using him strictly as a one-inning reliever could do wonders for Timlin. While there’s a lot of talk about Timlin moving into the sixth or seventh inning role, I fail to see how any other reliever on this team (Donnelly included) is more deserving of a set-up role than Timlin, and I think Francona agrees. Timlin could also become a very solid closer for the Red Sox, but he would not be a game-changing closer, and he would be limited to one inning. That can easily fly in the regular season, but I’m not sure how it could affect us in the playoffs.
Fighting for Spots (there is either one or two spots open for the people below.)
RP: Craig Breslow – 2006 with BOS: 0-2, 28.1 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .261 BAA. For AAA BOS: 7-1, 67.0 IP, 2.69 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, BAA unavailable. Free Craig Breslow! I have officially designated him as the person I most want to see on the Opening Day roster … in May … in June … in July … in August … in September … in October. He’s done absolutely nothing at the major league level to not warrant a roster spot. In 2006, he also decided to make all of Triple-A realize he is their daddy. What more is there to prove? He’s left-handed, had a 2.20 ERA in the majors for the Padres in 2005, a 3.75 ERA for the Red Sox, and destroyed AAA (look at that low WHIP! 1.09!) for much of the season. Put him in the bullpen. Now.
RP: Manny Delcarmen – 2006 for BOS: 2-0, 53.1 IP, 5.06 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, .309 BAA. For AAA BOS: 0-1, 17.0 IP, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, BAA unavailable. Assuming that my pleas are heard and Breslow is indeed in the bullpen, Delcarmen and the rest of the people on this list will have to fight to be the 12th pitcher on the team, but sadly, I don’t think Breslow will make it. He only got 12 innings last year, and I don’t hear the club talking about him as someone they like. So I’ll proceed with the thinking there are two spots still left, and Delcarmen is in fantastic shape to claim one of these spots. A local product, Delcarmen has some very good stuff and could develop into an excellent set-up man for years to come. His name has not really been bandied about as a closer, but I have a nagging feeling Delcarmen could take Boston by storm much like Papelbon did and become the closer. I do also think, however, that Donnelly, Tavarez and Timlin will each get shots at the closer’s job before Delcarmen, so it may not be until August before Delcarmen gets a shot. I truly hope Delcarmen never gets a shot, at least for this year, because that will mean we’ve got a terrible closer’s situation all year long that could torpedo our hopes. Either way, Delcarmen is easily the leading candidate for the 11th or 12th pitcher’s spot.
RP: Devern Hansack – 2006 for BOS: 1-1, 10.0 IP, 2.70 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, .171 BAA. For AA BOS: 8-7, 132.1 IP, 3.26 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, BAA unavailable. Hansack is to Boston what Breslow is to me – a favorite sleeper who they can’t stop promoting. Hansack probably has the inside track to the final pitcher’s spot as well, but I think his overall lack of proven ability at the major league level will prove a detractor and he’ll be shipped off to Triple-A. Anyone who throws a five inning no-hitter in the majors has talent, and I’ve got my eye closely on Hansack, who has also been named as a possible suitor for a closer’s job. This is one guy who’s spring training is largely going to determine the outcome of his 2006 season.
RP: Craig Hansen – 2006 for BOS: 2-2, 38.0 IP, 6.63 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, .305 BAA. For AAA BOS: 1-2, 36.0 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, BAA unavailable. For AA BOS: 1-0, 11.0 IP, 0.82 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, BAA unavailable. What happens to people who are hailed as the savior of the team right when they’re drafted and then rushed to the majors? Right. Craig Hansen happens. It’s time to stop putting so much pressure on the kid and allow him to rediscover what made him so hailed in the first place. The minors are easily no problem for Hansen, but he’s having trouble putting it together in the majors. To do the right thing for his confidence, Boston needs to option him to Pawtucket. A dominating spring training may say otherwise, but I would option him irregardless of his spring training performance. Let him close. Let him dominate.
RP: Javier Lopez – 2006 for BOS: 1-0, 16.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .232 BAA. 2005 for AAA BOS: 0-0, 16.2 IP, 4.86 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, BAA unavailable. 2006 for AAA CHW: 2-1, 33.0 IP, 0.55 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, BAA unavailable. When I went to go check out Lopez’s stats, I was a bit shocked that he actually posted a 2.70 ERA for Boston. That just shows you how misleading Lopez’s subpar season was statistically. He is nowhere the lock that these statistics say they are, and he is nowhere the return we should have gotten for David Riske. That being said, he did dominate for the AAA White Sox and did put up a 2.70 ERA for Boston. I’m pretty sure I remember a lot of runs scoring off him, and because he was used as a lefty specialist, the runs are probably credited to the other pitchers. He certainly dodged a bullet there. I expect him to report to Pawtucket, but if he dominates like he did in AAA last year, we’ll see him in the majors at some point.
RP: JC Romero – 2006 for LAA: 0-1, 48.1 IP, 6.70 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, .298 BAA. I don’t think of him as a lock as many other people seem to do, but he is definitely up there with Manny Delcarmen for the final two spots. Romero has a career 4.60 ERA, but that’s misleading. He had a 2002 season of a 1.89 ERA, and a 2004-5 season of respective ERAs of 3.51 and 3.47. Between that, however, is littered with ineffective stints. If he starts off badly, I think he won’t be around long. His history suggests he needs to have a short leash. He could be a coup for Boston, but the fact that he has a minor league contract … take advantage of it, guys! Send him to Pawtucket. If he’s at 3.50 ERA level for the majors, he’ll post an ERA of around 2 for AAA. If he’s at “gouge your eyes out when he comes in” levels, then he won’t impress in Triple-A. Alas, that’s too much of a radical concept for teams to grasp, I think.
You Won’t See Them Opening Day
RP: Nick DeBarr – 2006 for High-A TB: 4-3, 69.0 IP, 2.74 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, BAA unavailable. I really can’t see DeBarr making the team at all, especially because he’s yet to arrive in Double-A at the age of 23. I wonder if the selection of DeBarr from Tampa Bay is a bit of retribution for the Devil Rays blocking the trade of Adam Stern to the Orioles for Javy Lopez in the summer. DeBarr certainly has potential, but I can’t imagine him making the team, much like I couldn’t imagine Jaime Vermilyea doing it last year. DeBarr has promise, there’s no doubt about that, but he does not deserve (and will not) to spend the entire year on Boston’s 25-man roster. Maybe there’s a freak injury in his future.
RP: Lenny DiNardo – 2006 for BOS: 1-2, 39.0 IP, 7.85 ERA, 2.08 WHIP, .363 BAA. After a pretty good 2004 for a Rule 5 pick (4.23 ERA in 27.0 IP) he had an encouraging 2005 (1.84 ERA in 14.2 IP) but the wheels fell off this year due to injuries. DiNardo is losing time to establish himself, and should open the season at Pawtucket as either a starter or a reliever. He’s an option to be called up, but he will need a strong year at Pawtucket to put him on Boston’s map (or any other team’s map). He’s one of my prime candidates to be waived off the 40-man roster for a future acquisition during the year.
RP: Runelvys Hernandez – 2006 for KC: 6-10, 109.2 IP, 6.48 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, .327 BAA. This is probably just an attempt by me to try to circumvent my possible suicide, but I really don’t think Hernandez has any shot at making the bullpen. What I find interesting is that his 2006 was not so far off from Joel Pineiro’s 2006, and yet Pineiro is raking in the dough thanks to being young enough to have high upside and having experienced success at the major league level. I just simply don’t see any promise in Hernandez at all, while I do in Pineiro. If he can go to Pawtucket and excel while losing weight, he may become an attractive option. If he doesn’t, then at least the Dunkin’ Donuts in Pawtucket will post a 200 percent increase in profits for 2007.
RP: Jon Lester – 2006 for BOS: 7-2, 81.1 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .295 BAA. For AAA BOS: 3-4, 46.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, BAA unavailable. It would be a high atrocity for Lester to a) start the season in the majors and b) be a reliever. Jon Lester is a starter. Period. Sure, it’s a good idea to bring a starter along as a reliever for his first year, as the Chicago White Sox do. I endorse that. But I do not endorse that after a year where Lester had high promise as a starter, then got cancer. Jon Lester needs to get back into a routine and not feel pressured. He needs to start in Pawtucket.
RP: Kyle Snyder – 2006 for BOS: 4-5, 58.1 IP, 6.02 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .314 BAA. For AAA BOS: 3-3, 20.1 IP, 3.54 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, BAA unavailable. Snyder showed flashes of brilliance for the Red Sox and posted an appealing 3.50 K/BB ratio for Pawtucket, but he would also not be a good situation for a relief corps that already holds someone just like him: Joel Pineiro. Snyder should report to Pawtucket and start. He may very well be the first option out of the minors to be a spot-starter for the Red Sox.
Okay, so you can probably tell who I think will make the team and who I want to make the team. Who I think will make it: Donnelly, Okajima, Pineiro, Tavarez, Timlin, Delcarmen, Romero. Who I want is everyone except Romero, subbing in Breslow. One thing is for sure, though: The depth is there. We have depth, which we didn’t have last year. For backups we have the aforementioned Breslow, Hansack, Hansen, Lopez, DeBarr (for at least spring training), DiNardo, Hernandez, Lester and Snyder. That’s good. Depth is a friend. It’s not a bullpen that will light the world on fire, and a lot of things will have to go right for this to even be an above-average bullpen, but by the end of the year, I think our bullpen has a chance to be decent. Decent, which is better than 2005 and 2006. And that’s what matters.
FIRE BRAND ANNOUNCEMENT: The Fire Brand of the American League is proud to announce an addition to Fire Brand. Ever since Andrew Lipsett unfortunately had to depart Fire Brand due to a lack of time to write, Fire Brand has been searching for the next hidden gem that can take the world by storm. Zach and I think we’ve found that person in Mike Edelman, whose previous writings can be found at Inside the Monster. With such a name, perhaps Mike can tell us all just what Manny was doing inside the Monster that summer day. He’ll be posting on Tuesday for the first time, so be sure to welcome him then.