It’s rare that a team acquires an All-Star closer two straight offseasons, and then enters Year 2 with both pitchers very much part of the bullpen mix. That’s exactly the situation in Boston, though, and the Red Sox are a better team because of it.
General manager Ben Cherington should ultimately use that line of reasoning in determining Andrew Bailey’s short-term future with the club.
Bailey’s name has been the subject of trade speculation ever since the Red Sox acquired Joel Hanrahan earlier this offseason and subsequently anointed the former Pirates closer the new ninth-inning man in Boston. Perhaps the rumors are just that, but the Rangers reportedly spoke with the Red Sox about Bailey, so it’s obvious that there’s at least some level of interest in the 28-year-old right-hander.
There’s been this assumption in the wake of the Hanrahan trade that the Red Sox could be willing to part ways with Bailey, who is slated to make $4.1 million this season. Upon the club signing Koji Uehara, another late-inning reliever, the gossip only seemed to intensify. But while the bullpen appears to be an area of depth for the Red Sox, the club should be in no rush to compromise that depth, unless it means significantly improving in another area. That seems unlikely, and therefore the Red Sox should hang up the phone faster than they picked it up when it comes to discussing a trade involving Bailey.
A recent FOXSports.com report suggested that the Red Sox could satisfy the Tigers’ desire to add late-inning relief help by trading them Bailey in exchange for starter Rick Porcello, who will earn a similar salary in 2013. That’s nice in that Porcello would give the Red Sox some added starting pitching depth, but why deal someone who could have an integral, carved-out role in pressure situations for someone who will more or less serve as a sixth starter? Wouldn’t Bailey, who has the ability to shorten games for Boston, hold much more value?
It’s understandable that Bailey’s name has come up, simply because of the big, ol’ elephant in the room. Bailey was a two-time All-Star while closing out games in Oakland, and surely he expected to resume such a role in Boston before Hanrahan was given the keys to the ninth. But Bailey has been the consummate professional throughout the entire transition, and it appears he’s more than willing to take on an eighth-inning setup role, with Uehara also working in a similar capacity.
The Red Sox should embrace Bailey’s willingness rather than fight it, and to their credit, they have. The club has a very formidable trio in place at the back end of the bullpen, and it’s one of the reasons that contending this season isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Therefore, to insist that the Sox rush into a deal or to label Bailey as “expendable” involves a failure to recognize the current strength of that unit.
The biggest reason that the Orioles were able to surprise everyone and reach the postseason in 2012 was because of the strength and depth of their bullpen. The O’s were 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra-inning games, which is obviously a reflection of being able to shut down opponents late in ballgames. By comparison, the Red Sox were 17-22 in one-run games and 2-10 in extra-inning games.
Five of the top seven teams in bullpen ERA made the playoffs in 2012, and six of the top seven in bullpen WHIP punched their tickets to the postseason. Obviously, there are plenty of factors that impact those numbers, including the performance of the starters, who must ensure that the bullpen isn’t taxed night in and night out. It’s still difficult to downplay the importance of a strong relief corps, though, especially coming off a season like 2012, in which the Red Sox were plagued by inconsistent starting pitching that led to Boston compiling the eighth-most bullpen innings in baseball.
If the Red Sox get blown away by a trade offer for Bailey, then, of course, they’d probably consider it, but that’s the case with any player. For now, the Sox are best served keeping what has the potential to be a dangerous, three-headed monster in place.
The phone can keep ringing with calls about Bailey, but expect the Red Sox to keep pressing “ignore.”
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