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What to do with the Red Sox Bullpen?

Wednesday January 4th, 2012

Sam Evans: The Red Sox new management has already made a lot of moves to bolster their pitching staff this offseason. The one main idea that new General Manager Ben Cherington has brought to the Sox this year is competition. The Red Sox are looking for as many players to compete not only for a rotation spot, but for a chance to be the Red Sox closer in 2012.

My first reaction to hearing that Boston wanted to move Alfredo Aceves to the rotation was very negative. Aceves is a 29 year-old reliever who throws a fastball in the low nineties. Last year, Aceves threw 114 innings and had a 2.61 ERA. Going into Spring Training, the Red Sox are going to try out Aceves in the rotation. There is no way to know whether or not this move is going to work, but it’s a risky move for sure. Nonetheless, if the Red Sox only have Aceves throw one hundred and fifty innings this season, his workload would not be dramatically increased from 2011.

This past Wednesday, the Red Sox and A’s confirmed a five player trade which sent 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey to Boston. The Red Sox made it clear that they acquired Bailey to be their closer, and only that. Bailey has a lengthy injury history which is not good for a 27-year-old. He made the 2009 and 2010 All-Star teams but in 2011, he struggled due to his injuries. The Red Sox can always move Bard back to the closer spot if needbe, but for the time being it’s Bailey’s job to lose.

Daniel Bard was always waiting to take Jonathan Papelbon‘s closer role. Now, with Papelbon signing a 4- year, $50 million deal with the Phillies, one would think that Bard would slide into the back-end of the bullpen. With the Bailey acquisition, the Red Sox have made it crystal clear that Bard is heading to the rotation. In my opinion, this is not a great idea because Bard always struggled as a starter and doesn’t appear able to handle the workload. If everything goes wrong for Bard as a starter during Spring Training, he will take to becoming the Sox setup man. However, if Bard’s nasty slider can propel him to a successful spring, then he will replace the injured John Lackey and take over as Boston’s fifth starter.

The Red Sox haven’t improved much, if any at any other position other than their bullpen this offseason. I don’t like the trade that the Red Sox made, trading Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland for Mark Melancon. But Melancon is a nice piece to have in your bullpen. The former Yankee took advantage of Houston’s sparse bullpen last year, collecting twenty saves with a 2.78 ERA. If Bard stays in the rotation, Melancon will be the setup man. Otherwise, he will probably slide into the 7th inning role. Keep in mind that GM Ben Cherington and new manager Bobby Valentine have not ruled out the possibility that Melancon could close in 2012.

The Red Sox have other options in their bullpen, but none as strong as the previous four. Franklin Morales is a young one-time Baseball America top-ten prospect that has never had success with any breaking pitches. Bobby Jenks is due to make six million dollars in 2012, but he’s fallen off a cliff since 2009. Maybe the Sox saw the Yankees looking victorious with their big man, (C.C. Sabathia) and they took a chance on Jenks. Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, and Alex Wilson could all see time in the bullpen this year, but none pose a serious threat to take over the closer job.

Overall, the Red Sox have shown great effort this offseason to improve their bullpen. Despite losing their most valuable relief arm, the Sox have improved the quality of their bullpen across the board. The Red Sox have a big year coming in 2012, and with the recent additions to the their bullpen, it’s starting to look like they’ll be back in the playoffs once again.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter***

 

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Jonny Gomes Traded to the Nationals and Yonder Alonso Called Up by Reds

Tuesday July 26, 2011

MLB reports:  The trades are trickling in very slowly thus far as the MLB trade deadline approaches.  First Wilson Betemit was traded last week to the Tigers by the Royals.  Now, Jonny Gomes is off to Washington with cash in exchange for two minor leaguers.  Of most significance is the Gomes move allowing the Reds to call up super prospect Yonder Alonso.  The question is whether the Reds are showcasing their rookie outfielder in a potential blockbuster trade or have called him for good to man left field for the next decade in Cincinnati.

Gomes was the darling of the Reds faithful the past two seasons.  He slugged 20 home runs in 2009, playing in only 98 games.  He followed up with an equally strong campaign last year, blasting 18 home runs with 86 RBIs and 77 runs scored.  The Red had signed Gomes after the 2009 season to a 2-year, $2.55 million contract which looked like a bargain going into it this season.  The 2011 season however, has not been kind to Gomes.  Entering play today, Gomes was batting a paltry .211, with a .336 OBP and .399 SLG.  After receiving every day playing time to start the year, Gomes was relegated to part-time duty as the season progressed.  A change in scenery was in order and with prospect outfielder Yonder Alonso on the horizon, roster space needed to be opened up.

Gomes is now off to Washington to play out the string.  The Nationals, in dire need of an offensive boost, took a chance on the 30-year old Gomes in the hope that he will be able to reclaim some of his past magic with Washington.  The Nationals did not hurt themselves, as Gomes comes at a very reasonable salary which will be subsidized by the Reds and cost the team only two fringe prospects.  Plus as a potential type “B” free agent at the end of the year, the Nationals would receive a compensation draft pick for Gomes if he is offered arbitration by the team and does not accept.  Given Gomes’ offensive potential, it was a low-risk and high-reward move for a team that needed to send a message to its fans that it was serious about contending.  Even though the team is out of the penant race this season, the Nationals needed to remain competitive through September to send the right message to its fanbase.  Jonny Gomes is a step in the right direction in that respect.

The prospects headed to the Reds are pitcher Christopher Manno and outfielder Bill Rhinehart.  Manno, a 38th round pick of the Nationals back in 2009 and then again in the 26th round in 2010 has shined since joining the organization.  The 22-year old Manno, a 6’3″ left-handed pitcher, has a 1.47 ERA over 2 seasons in the lower minors, with 13 saves, only 32 hits given up in 61.1 IP and 25/98 BB/K.  Rhinehart, 26-years of age, was drafted in the 11th round in 2007.  Having made it all the way to AAA in 2010, Rhinehart was playing this season in AA.  Up to the time of this trade yesterday, Rhinehart was enjoying his finest professional season to-date.   Hitting .283 with 21 home runs, 59 RBIs and .963 OPS, Rhinehart was exhibiting great pop in his bat.  But given that neither Manno nor Rhinehart are established major league players and are fringe prospects at best at this point in their careers, the Nationals have to be considered the winner of this trade.  They acquired an established major leaguer without giving up any of their top prospects.

From the Reds’ perspective, the bigger corresponding move is the recall of Yonder Alonso.  With his .296 AVG in AAA with 12 homer runs and .860 OPS, Alonso had little left to prove in the minors.  Scouts have never questioned his bat, as he has displayed the rare combination of power and patience from a very young age, far advanced for his years.  The only knock is his defense, as Alonso is a converted outfielder after having been blocked at first base by perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto.  But all the reports that we have seen is that Alonso has progressed well in learning the outfield to the point that he is considered adequate.  Although he is no danger of ever winning a gold glove, Alonso’s bat more than compensates for any defensive shortcomings.  The debate for the next five days will be whether Alonso is remaining with the Reds or being shipped in a blockbuster.  My gut is that he is staying put.

The two biggest names being linked to the Reds in trade talks is Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies and James Shields of the Rays.  Either player would cost a substantial package in return, including possibly Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco, Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso.  The package that I have read for both players would be centered around Alonso and 1-2 more top prospects in the Reds’ organization.  From all indications, the Reds are in on the two superstar hurlers but are attempting to hold onto their top prospects if possible.  In a perfect world for the Reds, they would be able to land Jimenez while only giving up Bailey and Grandal.  But the Rockies, like the Rays, will demand a package that includes Alonso and/or Mesoraco.  A deep price to pay talent but reasonable, considering the upside and the high level of talent that would be coming back to the Reds.

At the end of the day, I believe that the Reds will regret it if they move Alonso.  He is rare hitter that will be an All-Star for many years to come.  While top flight pitching is hard to find and develop, it usually comes at a high price and risk.  Pitchers, given the strain and wear and tear they put on their arms, are the most likely position to be injured and thus come with the highest risks and question marks.  The hope is that the Reds appreciate the talent that they have in Yonder Alonso and continue to cultivate and develop him.  With such a deep pool of talent, they should still be able to make the headliner trade they are shooting for without giving up their top rated young hitter.  They were able to move Gomes to Washington to make room for Alonso, now hopefully we can sit back and watch Alonso combine with Mesoraco, Votto, Phillips and Stubbs to form the newest version of the Big Red Machine.  The Reds are on the verge of putting together something very special.  Hopefully they stick to the plan.

 

 

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Top 5 Closers Available at July 31 MLB Trade Deadline

Friday July 22, 2011

 

MLB reports:   The MLB Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching.  With only nine days to go, MLB teams need to decide if they are buyers or sellers.  Right up until July 31st deadline, the baseball world will be buzzing on potential deals.  While transactions can occur after July 31st, the respective players will need to first pass through waivers, which makes trades more difficult to happen.  Especially in the category of closers, who are sought after by almost every team.  Whether to obtain a 9th inning stopper or upgrade their middle relief, the majority of MLB teams are currently on the prowl.

There are some contending teams would love to add a closer, including the Rangers and Cardinals.  The host of other teams battling for a playoff spot are ready to take a current closer to pitch the 7th or 8th inning.  To win today in baseball, you usually need 2-3 closer-type pitchers in your pen.  The Brewers recently added Francisco Rodriguez to compliment John Axford.  The New York Yankees signed Rafael Soriano to pitch in front of Mariano Rivera, although David Robertson has since grabbed the role.  True closers will always be in demand and teams with playoff aspirations will always find room for these guys on their rosters.

As the line between buyers and sellers becomes less blurry, we take a look today at the top five closer candidates to be traded by the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline:

 

1)  Heath Bell:  San Diego Padres

The Rolls Royce of available closers, the Padres are talking to teams on a daily, if not hourly basis on the availability of Heath Bell.  Nearly every team has been linked to Bell in the past few days, from the Rangers, Cardinals, Phillies, Red Sox, Jays and Tigers.  The prize of the closing market, expect the Padres to demand a king’s ransom for his services.  At least two top prospects, with one being major league ready should get this deal done.  With 28 saves and a 2.45 ERA, the 33-year old Bell is having another fantastic campaign before his impending free agency.  The Rangers and Cardinals are most in need of a closer, with the Rangers the most likely destination based on availability of prospects.  The Rangers have the superior farm system and could match up best with the Padres.  The Phillies and Jays are the dark horses according to reports and need to decide if they are willing to pay the price.

 

2)  Brandon League:  Seattle Mariners

A first time All-Star in 2011, Brandon League has raised his stock this year and given the Mariners an interesting trade chip to work with at the deadline.  League has chipped in 23 saves already this year, with a 3.35 ERA and 1.088 WHIP.  With a team friendly contract and under team control for another season, League should draw much interest on the market.  St. Louis seems like a logical choice, as the Cardinals will be looking for a long-term solution to their closing woes.  I cannot see the Mariners dealing in their division and having to face League next year with the Rangers.  A top prospect or two middle prospects should make this one happen.  With the Mariners far out of contention and in complete rebuild mode, a top closer seems like a luxury that the Mariners cannot afford at the moment.  The Mariners need offensive help and need it quickly, with League being one of many candidates likely to leave Seattle by July 31st to replenish the farm system.

 

3)  Frank Francisco, Jon RauchOctavio Dotel, Jason Frasor:  Toronto Blue Jays

If Heath Bells is a Rolls Royce, the Blue Jays are running a used Ford dealership in their bullpen.  Frank Francisco is like a used mustang with transmission problems, while Jon Rauch is a pickup truck without the V8 engine.  The Jays have assembled a collection of the middle-of-the-road closers and setup men this year in their bullpen.  Francisco will likely draw the most attention, despite his mostly awful numbers this year.  At 31-years of age and throwing big time heat, Francisco still has potential.  Rauch has served as the Jays closer for much of the year and could be in demand as well.  Octavio Dotel, the eldest member of the pack, has bounced around during his major league career and could be a useful trade deadline pickup.  The most effective reliever though for the Jays has been Jason Frasor and a smart team should consider him.  While the Jays are unlikely to offer any true closers to contending teams, there are middle relief candidates to be had.  Expect the Phillies to come calling and pickup one of the above.

 

4)  Kevin Gregg:  Baltimore Orioles

For those teams that like to play with fire, closers don’t get more dangerous than Kevin Gregg.  A 4.00 ERA and unsightly 1.583 WHIP are not numbers that scream out lock-down closer.  Gregg has shown though the ability to get hot at times during his career and will be considered by many teams over the next week.  Signed through next year, the Orioles will look mainly for salary relief in shedding Gregg’s contract.  Personally, I wouldn’t consider Gregg if I was running a team.  But somehow he will likely move by July 31st.

 

5)  Leo Nunez:  Florida Marlins

Another up-and-down closer in the Gregg mold, Leo Nunez is quietly having a very solid season for the Florida Marlins.  Up to 27 saves, with a 3.22 ERA and 1.187 WHIP, Nunez might actually be the best affordable option on the closers market.  The Rangers and Cardinals will sniffing around here, as will the Red Sox, Indians and Tigers.  As the Marlins and Tigers have matched up well before in trades, I can see this swap happening.  The Tigers have the ability to surrender a decent pitching prospect and can use Nunez down the stretch as Valverde insurance.  With the Tigers in contention and the majority of their bullpen being fairly unstable for most of the year, Nunez might be a late inning option that the the Tigers can ill-afford to miss out on.

 

Send us your comments and opinions on available closers for the trade deadline.  Other names thrown around have been Joakim Soria, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Andrew Bailey and Brian Fuentes.  The trading of players, especially closers, is especially reliant on the competitiveness and status of a team in the standings.  With so many teams still in their respective races, there are not as many top bullpen arms available at this point in the season.  But come August, as more teams continue to drop out, expect to see even more trade activity.  Exciting times, as the MLB pennant races continue to heat up, and baseball trade talk is on everyone’s lips.

 

 

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