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BOSTON (CBS) – There is a lot of talk about the question marks at the back end of the Red Sox rotation, but there are just as many questions in the bullpen.
It is not really a bad thing to have questions, which mostly means competition, in the spring.
The top relievers of 2011 are either on a new team (Jonathan Papelbon) or gunning for a different role (Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves). With that, Ben Cherington went out and got a new closer and set-up man. But after that, it’s wide open.
With Papelbon signing a record deal with the Phillies, Cherington plucked Andrew Bailey from the Athletics to close games for the Sox. The 27-year-old righty saved 24 games for Oakland last season, and is 75-for-85 over his three0year career in save opportunities. He held batters to a .218 average in 2011, allowing just 34 hits in 41.2 innings pitched.
His track record for the small market A’s looks great, but how will he handle the ninth inning at Fenway?
Bailey is three for four in save opportunities in Fenway Park over his career, but they haven’t been pretty. He has allowed four earned runs on eight hits over five innings in his career in Boston.
Luckily, he doesn’t have to face the Red Sox lineup in the bottom of the ninth anymore, who hit .364 against their new closer. Chances are the two-time all-star will be fine in a Red Sox uniform, but there are always questions surrounding a closer coming to shut down teams with the spotlight a little brighter.
Helping Bailey out will be newly acquired Mark Melancon, who saved 20 games for the Astros last season. Picked up for infielder Jed Lowrie, Melancon will likely take over the eighth inning with Bard trying to secure one of the two available spots in the starting rotation. Overall, Melancon went 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA over 74.1 innings in 2011.
After that small market to big market question (although Melancon pitched for the Yankees his first two stints in the majors), the 26-year-old sounds like a very good option to pick up all those holds Bard will be hoping his bullpen gets (if he makes the rotation).
The Sox are a little short of lefty options, with Franklin Morales likely the first southpaw out of the pen. Morales went 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA over 46.1 innings for Boston after being acquired from the Rockies in the middle of the 2011 season. Andrew Miller (6-3, 5.54 ERA) and Felix Doubront (6.10 ERA in 11 appearances) are other options, but are in the running for a starting role and would likely serve better in as long relievers.
After that, there are right handers Bobby Jenks, Matt Albers, Michael Bowden and a slew of other non-roster invitees the Sox are hoping can help them at some point during the season. Jenks is the biggest question mark of them all (no weight joke intended) after coming off multiple back surgeries last year. Albers got off to a great start in 2011, but ended the season with a 4-4 record and a 4.73 ERA. Bowden has not done much after his debut back in 2008, but is out of minor league options (as are Doubront, Miller, Morales and Albers).
Some dark horses to make the bullpen include Jesse Carlson, Rich Hill, and other rotation hopefuls like Vicente Padilla and Aaron Cook. They will offer some competition this spring, and one could even earn a spot. And if things do not work out for either Bard or Aceves, they could always return to the pen with someone moving to the starting five or the Sox searched the bargain bin. Aceves was second to only Papelbon in the 2011 bullpen, and some would argue he was the best pitcher on the team.
So there are plenty of questions around the Red Sox bullpen, but there are not many teams that aren’t in the same boat. With the stockpile of arms that Cherington has assembled, and plenty of potential moving pieces between the rotation and pen and even Fenway and Pawtucket, the Red Sox should be OK come opening day.
Competition and motivation can do miracles in February and March. Hopefully it also means something for April through October.