Boston Red Sox: Cautiously Optimistic About New Closer Andrew Bailey

Mike EdelmanContributor IIDecember 28, 2011

NEW YORK - APRIL 22:  Andrew Bailey #40  of The Oakland Athletics in action against The New York Yankees during their game on April 22, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx Borough of New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Andrew Bailey is just 27 years old. He has a career ERA of 2.05, a career WHIP of 0.954 and has converted 75 of 84 save opportunities. He's a former Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and he'll cost less than $4 million in 2012. What's not to like? His elbow mostly.

Bailey has already had surgery on his right elbow on two occasions, the first time for Tommy John surgery in 2005 and the second time to "clean up" the elbow at the end of the 2010 season. In 2011, Bailey also had to be shut down due to forearm tightness, a common complaint among pitchers who later require elbow surgery.

Injury troubles have limited the closer to 49 innings in 2010 and 41.2 innings in 2011. He's never made more than 25 saves in a season. But despite that, he appears like a good gamble. And if the worst-case scenario does play out and Bailey misses significant time due to injury, the Boston Red Sox have a plethora of backup options in Mark Melancon, Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks.

It also helps that Bailey is still arbitration eligible and is not signed to a guaranteed contract. For one, it keeps his salary relatively low. But it also gives the Red Sox the benefit of being able to non-tender Bailey without consequence should he require serious surgery.

The amount of prospects the Red Sox had to give up for their new closer was surprisingly light. The centerpiece of the trade was left-handed outfielder Josh Reddick. Reddick was somewhat expendable for the Red Sox given the fact that the rest of their outfield was left-handed as well and they have a similar prospect in Ryan Kalish, who is younger and more polished.

Reddick may have a very successful career ahead of him. His .280/.327/.457 slash stat was above league average for a right fielder, and he showed flashes of brilliant defensive play. But his impatient approach at the plate did not mesh well with Boston's philosophy as a team.

His inconsistencies offensively were also somewhat frustrating to watch. Upon his promotion to the major leagues, Reddick hit .393/.439/.672 in his first 23 games, then finished the season hitting .244/.293/.389 is his last 64 games.

The Oakland Athletics also acquired first baseman Miles Head and pitcher Raul Alcantara in the trade, neither of whom will show up on any lists of Boston's top prospects. Head was easily expendable given the fact that he was blocked by Adrian Gonzalez, who plays 160 games a year. Alcantara was a Dominican international free agent signed by the Red Sox at the age of 16 in 2009. He is still very young, and it's difficult to project what kind of a pitcher he may become.

In addition to Bailey, the Red Sox acquired left-handed hitting outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the trade. Sweeney is a career .283/.342/.378 hitter, but much like newly acquired infielder Nick Punto, he is an elite defensive player. He owns a career plus-16.0 UZR in his natural position of right field. Sweeney is also a career .296/.352/.402 hitter against right-handers, which may give him some utility as a pinch hitter.

This should be considered another successful trade by new general manager Ben Cherington. After letting former closer Jonathan Papelbon walk to sign a four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies, he has now replaced him with Bailey and Melancon. Melancon figures to be the team's new setup man if they follow through with their plan to move Daniel Bard to the rotation.

There is more work to be done, though. The Boston Red Sox are in dire need of a fourth starter, and they could also use a right-handed hitting outfielder. With the acquisitions of Bailey and Sweeney, the Red Sox now have approximately $8 million in salary to work with if they wish to remain under the luxury tax threshold for 2012.

However, the Red Sox are rumored to be willing to exceed the luxury tax threshold next year. So for now at least, free-agent options such as Roy Oswalt, Joe Saunders and Andruw Jones remain in play.