The Red Sox have been a model of consistency this past offseason, a striking departure from their modus operandi in 2004. For the most part, the 25-man roster is settled except for the bullpen, which is shaping up to be a battle for the last two spots.
Running through the locks: Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Julian Tavarez (despite his September/October disappearing act, which I still haven’t heard an explanation for), Mike Timlin.
That leaves two spots for the likes of David Aardsma, Craig Breslow, Bryan Corey, Devern Hansack, Craig Hansen, Javier Lopez, Edgar Martinez, David Pauley and Kyle Snyder. How did I get those names? They’re on Boston’s 40-man roster, and I can’t fathom us selecting someone not on the 40-man roster to break camp ahead of any of the two above people. Danny Kolb, Dan Miceli and Dave B.’s pet player, Lee Gronkiewicz, should all be ticketed for Pawtucket.
Let’s run through the candidates (all statistics of 2007):
CHW: 31.1 IP, 6.40 ERA, 1.73 WHIP
AAA: 35.1 IP, 4.33 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
|Aardsma, claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox, is only 26 and has a lot of upside. He can strike batters out, but as I mentioned the day we acquired him, he’s prone to walks. Despite his solid season as a Cub in 2006, he was volatile enough in 2007 that he will have to fight for his job. Aardsma is out of options, and will likely not make it through waivers. Is it worth the risk to try to get him through?|
AAA: 68.2 IP, 4.06 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
|For two long years, I’ve been crying to “Free Breslow!” and we got to see him for 12 innings in 2006. In 2007? His first half in AAA was brilliant, but he fell off a cliff in the second half. He will not make the roster, but if he’s consistent enough in Pawtucket, should log some major league time. Only 27, he can still turn in a solid career. His (most likely losing) battle to make the roster will rest on his ability to throw from the south side; his only competition is Javier Lopez. Since he is out of options, it is possible he could be lost to another team if (when) he doesn’t get a job.|
BOS: 9.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
AAA: 68.1 IP, 3.69 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
|Since being acquired from Texas in the Sox’s only trade deadline deal in 2006, he’s been surprisingly good when on the roster. He impressed so much in September that we wondered if he should be put on the postseason roster. A sleeper to win a spot.|
BOS: 7.2 IP, 4.70 ERA, 1.83 WHIP
AAA: 139.2 IP, 3.61 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
|Hansack provided a bright spot to an otherwise dismal ending to the 2006 season by no-hitting the Orioles through five innings (and vis a vis the rain delay, got credit for a full game). He was less impressive in his second go-round in 2007 and shouldn’t be considered so he can be counted on for a few spot starts over the season. To do that, he needs to start in Pawtucket.|
AAA: 51.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.75 WHIP
|He holds a career 6.59 ERA in the majors, but is still only 24. He made significant strides this past year at Triple-A and can start being looked at as a solid middle relief prospect again. He suffered from sleep apnea and the problem has since been corrected. With a strong spring, he could surprise. More than likely, however, he’ll report to Triple-A and prove that he’s back to the Craig Hansen we drafted.|
BOS: 40.2 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
AAA: 16.1 IP, 3.78 ERA, 1.62 WHIP
|Out of the people on this list, Javier Lopez is easily the one with the best shot of breaking camp with the team. He is a left-handed pitcher who is cast as a lefty specialist (despite the abberation of reverse splits last year). He is a groundball machine and despite bouts with wildness, handles himself well. Bet on him flying to Japan.|
AAA: 68.0 IP, 5.16 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
|There’s been a lot said about El Guapo version 2. 26 years old, he reached Pawtucket for the first time last year and checked in with a 5.16 ERA. He has an excellent four-seam and two-seam fastball, but his off-speed pitches aren’t MLB caliber. He also gives up too much homeruns. He has no shot of breaking the roster, but if he can keep the ball down, could see a callup in September — perhaps earlier.|
AAA: 153.2 IP, 4.33 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
|Much like Devern Hansack, Pauley’s value right now is tied up in the fact that he can start, so he’s definitely headed to Rhode Island. However, I’m putting him here because odds are good that we’ll see him at some point this year. Despite our tremendous starting pitching depth in Schilling (the second half), Tavarez and Hansack, the likelihood that we avoid dipping into the pool any more than the aforementioned three is very low. Pauley is known by many of us for his trial-by-fire in Yankee Stadium, which he passed with flying colors. Spending the entire year in Pawtucket, it was a major adjustment for him to compete against AAA hitters for the entire year. He acquitted himself well and looks to be ready to start cracking the 25-man roster on occasion. He’s one of my prime sleepers for trade candidates to a bad team where he can get more opportunities to start.|
AAA: 54.1 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
|Snyder signed a non-guaranteed contract, avoiding arbitration. He’s coming off his most successful year in the bigs, having spent the entire year on a World Series champion’s 25-man roster and doing okay. His ERA doesn’t reflect that he wasn’t really that good. His 1.41 does a better job of reflecting that (54.1 IP, 45 H, 32 BB, 41 K, 6 HBP, 4 WP, 7 HR). Snyder’s a nice story, but I really don’t have much confidence in him at all. That being said, he’s easily the favorite to win the final bullpen spot and will have to stave off David Aardsma to do it.|
Long story short, I fully expect Javier Lopez and Kyle Snyder to continue the Red Sox being models of consistency and breaking camp with the team.
However, I have to admit that I’d much rather see Aardsma and then Corey get first crack at the roster instead of Snyder. On the lefty side of the discussion, while Lopez did a great job and has no reason not to break camp with the team, I really am intrigued by Breslow and would hate to lose him.
That being said, the odds that every single pitcher in this breakdown pitching at least one pitch for the Red Sox in 2008 is very high. Through attrition, ineffectiveness, injuries and September call-ups, we should see all these players.
I’ve been following Aardsma for a long time, and now that he’s a Red Sox, has become one of “my boys.” Because of that status, his previous successes and profile, I’m going to make a bold prediction here and declare that given enough playing time at the major league level, he could outperform all of the players listed here. What is clear, however, is the Red Sox have built up some crazy depth in the bullpen, which bodes nothing but good things for us.
A bullpen is very volatile. Average relievers can turn in great seasons one year, awful ones the next. It takes a lot to maintain consistency in the bullpen, which is why it’s such a fluid part of the roster. It’s vital to have interchangeable parts in the bullpen, and the Red Sox have just that.
Who would you like to see break camp with the Red Sox? Who do you think on this list has the best chance of helping the Red Sox?