Red Sox Trade Rumors: 10 Huge Advantages Andrew Bailey Will Create
One by one, the Red Sox front office has been putting the pieces together.
New GM Ben Cherington has lived up to what he said in his initial press conference: that he would approach this off-season patiently, not overreact to the September collapse, and focus on low-risk, high-reward signings and trades.
I give him credit for resisting the urge to sign an expensive closer in the wake of the Papelbon departure.
In fact, I give him credit for avoiding the high-ticket free agents altogether.
At the start of the New Year, he has positioned the team to be in pretty good shape for spring training. There are now multiple options in the bullpen, which solve at least part of the rotation problem by allowing Bobby Valentine to experiment with Daniel Bard and even Alfredo Aceves as starters.
Granted, the team still needs another proven starter, and right field is a big question mark. But with David Ortiz back in the fold as DH, the team is much better off than we thought it would be as little as two months ago.
Last week's acquisition of Andrew Bailey does more than shore up the bullpen, as the following slides will show. It puts the Red Sox on the right track for solving some of their remaining deficiencies.
1. An Opportunity to Create Better Clubhouse-Manager Communication
(L-R) Bobby Valentine, Kevin Slowey, Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey meet up in Connecticut.
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We're going to guess that Red Sox ownership hired Bobby Valentine as manager because (a) He's a relatively "big name"; and (b) because he has a reputation as a hard-ass who can come in and grab an allegedly dysfunctional clubhouse by the throat and turn it in a new direction.
Good luck with that.
Tim Britton of the Providence Journal hit the nail on the head when he wrote that the more important aspect of managing in the 21st century is "how one handles his clubhouse—a talent that is subtler, more difficult to gauge and, as we discovered at the end of this Red Sox season, not necessarily consistent over time."
Subtle? Bobby Valentine? Hmm. That could be a problem.
However, the recent acquisition of relief pitcher Andrew Bailey from the Oakland As may open a new channel of communication for Valentine with his players—most of whom the new skipper does not know well.
However, Valentine and Bailey do know each other. Both reside in Connecticut, and for the past two years Valentine has emceed an event for Bailey's charity, the Strike 3 Foundation.
Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com reports that Bailey and former As teammate Craig Breslow, who is also a native of Connecticut (and a Yale grad), started the foundation to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
"Bobby and I are good friends," Bailey told Didier Morais of yardbarker.com. "Bobby and I have a good relationship. He's excited to have me on board and I'm excited to be there for him. We spoke about this year. We're both looking forward to it. It helps knowing someone going in."
It certainly does—and it may be more valuable to Valentine that he knows Bailey.
"I see him off the field act the way you would want a major leaguer, or for that matter a son or father to act," Valentine said to Morais.
According to Morais, Bailey is equally complimentary about his new manager. "He's a great guy and brings a lot of energy to anything he does," Bailey said. "… He's going to do great with that bunch of guys in Boston. He's hard not to like, so I'm sure I'll get along well with him."
This trade may offer the Red Sox an unexpected bonus when it comes to clubhouse communication.
2.Salary Cap Flexibility to Help Get Another Starter
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I have argued since the season ended that the Red Sox should make a play for at least one highly-ranked starter to help overcome the bitter taste left in the mouths of Red Sox Nation by the September collapse.
The fact that the Red Sox have been able to fill a major bullpen hole with a closer who made $465,000 last year (instead of paying a Papelbon or Madson more than $10 million per year) gives Boston some wiggle room salary-wise in attempting to deal for a stud.
Yes, Bailey will probably get more than $3 million in arbitration, and there are big raises coming for Ellsbury, Gonzales and Pedroia. But J.D. Drew's contract finally comes off the books this year.
In my opinion the Red Sox should make an all-out effort to get the Seattle ace, Felix Hernandez. One scenario that might work involves the Red Sox also absorbing the burdensome contracts of Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki, as described here:
Yes, I know that Seattle would want a king's ransom for Hernandez, but by shedding the burdensome contracts mentioned above, a lot of money would be freed up for them to pursue the left-handed bat they most covet, Prince Fielder.
If the Mariners won't budge on Hernandez, the next priority would be to come up with an equally creative scenario to pry Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain loose from the Giants.
Again, a deal that includes the Red Sox absorption of burdensome contracts (such as Barry Zito and Aubrey Huff) would have to be at least considered in San Francisco.
Yes, I understand that both these moves are highly speculative, but the Red Sox should test them out before moving on to trade targets that ARE clearly available (Matt Garza, Gavin Floyd, Wandy Rodriguez, etc.).
3…and a Right Fielder.
Ichiro just doesn't give up in the outfield.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Should Red Sox Nation be worried?
After all, one of the top items on the offseason wish list was another outfielder with some pop, preferably someone who could play right while the BoSox sorted out the Ryan Kalish/Josh Reddick situation (both are left-handed hitters, and neither sports good numbers against left-handed pitching).
Now, Reddick is gone in the Bailey deal, and Kalish is rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.
It's time to seek alternatives. The suggestions to follow may not be ideal long-term solutions, but each offers a short-term benefit.
Besides, the outfield free-agent class for 2012 is particularly strong (Quentin, Curtis Granderson, Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, B. J. Upton, Shane Victorino, among others), so the best solution for the Red Sox might be to mark time for a year…or at least until the trading deadline.
Here are my four favorite options, with links to each:
And my favorite,
The way Ichiro comes to Boston is as part of a deal for Felix Hernandez. (See previous slide.)
Hear me out on this one before you dismiss it.
I know that every previous offer for the right-handed starter has been rebuffed by Seattle, and he supposedly wants to finish his career there, but here’s a road map for getting a deal done.
A key incentive for the Mariners to do such a deal is for the Red Sox to take on the last year of Ichiro's contract, which could make it easier for Seattle to sign Prince Fielder.
Ichiro had a sub-par season in 2011, he is 38 years old, and he is due $17 million for 2012, the last year of his contract. While the Mariners will be careful not to diss one of the best players in franchise history, they would welcome the chance to get out from under Ichiro's huge contract.
As a 10/5 player (10 years in MLB, five with the same team), Ichiro can't be traded without his consent. But the opportunity to win a World Series before he retires may cause him to accept a trade.
Dealing Ichiro would require Seattle to do it in a way that saved face, both for Ichiro and the team, especially since the principal owner of the Mariners is Japanese. Hiroshi Yamauchi, the largest shareholder in Nintendo Corporation, would have to be able to justify the trade.
The solution to that problem is…Daisuke Matsuzaka goes to Seattle as part of the deal.
By including Daisuke in the deal, the Red Sox could soften the blow to the large Japanese community in the Pacific Northwest. Matsuzaka is also in the final year of his contract, under which he is due $10 million.
Daisuke has started six games in Seattle and has posted an ERA of 3.05.
Yes, he is on the disabled list, but that is not an obstacle to a trade. So long as the receiving team is willing to accept a disabled player, the commissioner's office can approve the deal.
The Red Sox could include a performance clause to protect Seattle in case Matsuzaka does not come back as hoped from Tommy John surgery. If he does come back, Seattle will have gained another, younger, Japanese icon with some upside.
There are 17 million reasons for Seattle to part with Ichiro now. Also, he’s nearing the end of the road, and there are questions about his clubhouse role with a decidedly younger roster. But he still has a rocket arm, and is a superb defender. I would love to see him patrolling right field in Fenway for a year or two.
The acquisition of Bailey instead of a high-priced free agent makes it a little easier to get such a deal done money-wise.
4. His Arrival Makes It Easier to Move Daniel Bard into the Starting Rotation
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Andrew Bailey will make it a lot easier for the Red Sox to move Bard into the rotation. With Mark Melancon aboard as well, the Red Sox already have more bullpen flexibility than they did at the end of the 2011 season.
If Bard can succeed in the rotation, that will save them a bundle on the free agent market. They can plow that money into another starter, and perhaps into a right-handed hitting outfielder.
Bard is arbitration-eligible, having earned $505,000 in 2011. Even with an arbitration bump, the Red Sox are not going to be able to find many starters with Bard’s stuff available at that price.
"What you've allowed yourself to do is . . . acquire a high-upside starter in Daniel Bard for nothing," said ex-Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni last week on Comcast SportsNet New England.
I've been beating the "Bard as a starter" drum since the season ended, and now it appears that the Red Sox are headed in that direction. It also makes sense for reasons other than money.
Point one: It's a lot harder to develop (or find) good starting pitchers than it is to find relievers.
Point two: I doubt Daniel Bard has the makeup to be a closer.
After all, he was 2-9 for the year, and his eighth-inning appearances (56 of them) are not as overpowering as many think. Yes, he had that lights-out midsummer stretch, and for the year batters hit only .205 against him.
However, Bard allowed 22 runners to score, in addition to giving up 25 runs of his own with a very average eighth-inning ERA of 4.38.
His disastrous September (ERA of 10.64 with nine walks in 11 innings pitched) adds to the concern.
What many forget is that the Red Sox drafted Bard as a starter, and he made 44 starts (with admittedly terrible results) in 2007.
Bard himself has said that starting wasn't the problem; he just was not pitching well that year, and the results would have been the same no matter what inning he pitched. At the start of the 2011 season, he expressed an interest in returning to a starting role.
To those who suggested that the Red Sox should pursue C.J. Wilson, I remind you that Wilson was a reliever for five years before transitioning to a starting role in 2010.
I also believe it's a much shrewder investment for the Red Sox to make Bard a starting pitcher.
The Rangers have signed Joe Nathan so that they can convert their closer, Neftali Feliz, into the starting rotation—so there are two recent precedents for you.
One of the perceptions of Bard is that he is a one- (or at most two-) pitch pitcher. That's not true. If you go back to Bard's scouting report at redsoxprospects.com, it says:
Bard also mixes in an 80-82 mph slider with some nice bite. His slider really keeps hitters off balance. It can also dip down to about 76-78 mph with more slurve action. He also has a few other pitches in his arsenal that aren't used very often, including a high-80s cutter, a low-90s two-seamer, and a circle change.
Let's face it, a top-four rotation of Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Bard would not be bad.
The low-risk, high-reward potential seems to fit right in to GM Ben Cherington's plan—and Andrew Bailey is the insurance policy.
5. Bailey Gives the Red Sox Multiple Bullpen Options
Bailey adds flexibility—as well as closer skills—to the Red Sox bullpen.
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Adding Bailey (and Melancon) offers flexibility the Red Sox did not have with Bard and Papelbon.
Papelbon was rarely used for multiple innings, unless it was an extra inning game. Bard seldom closed, and also seldom went more than one inning. They never reversed roles.
Bailey has had success as a closer; so has Melancon. So has Bobby Jenks, for that matter. All can set up as well as close. All three can pitch multiple innings.
More so than any other position, filling out the bullpen is a total crapshoot every year. So is choosing a closer, for every team that does not own Mariano Rivera.
Take a deep breath and look at recent history.
At the end of the 2010 season, the Tampa Bay Rays lost virtually every arm they had in what was a very strong bullpen. Dan Wheeler signed with the Red Sox, and Chad Qualls, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, and Joaquin Benoit all left as free agents. (Most signed one-year deals elsewhere, and some are available again this year.)
Through the summer, the Rays mixed and matched, and through a combination of rookies (Brandon Gomes and Jake McGee) and Maddon's various reclamation projects, they ended up with a relief staff that was one of the best in the majors.
They picked up their very successful closer, Kyle Farnsworth, off the scrap heap.
Another team that built up a solid bullpen in 2011 for very little money was the San Francisco Giants.
These two very successful bullpens consisted of a combination of non-performers who flourished in new environments, as well as youngsters who were developed by their teams internally.
The bottom line is that decent relievers seem to materialize out of nowhere every year. The conundrum is that some of the good relievers in one year were total disasters just the year before. They seem to run out of gas in one park, division or league, and are rejuvenated by a change of scenery.
Conversely, some of the best firemen in 2011 will turn out to be expensive duds in 2012.
The argument here is that there is no true recipe for success. That's why signing several low-risk, inexpensive free agents (and throwing in a few prospects from the farm) seems preferable to investing a lot of money (and therefore credibility) into just a couple of guys.
So relax, Red Sox Nation—there will be plenty of bullpen arms to go around. Better to focus your energy (and money) on starting pitching.
6. Bailey's Presence Also Takes Some of the Load off Alfredo Aceves
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At Ben Cherington’s October 25 press conference, he specifically pointed out the acquisition of Aceves as the model of the type of “buy low” deal the Red Sox would like to do for 2012.
In his four year career with the Red Sox and Yankees, Aceves has an incredible record of 24-3 with an ERA of 2.93. In late and close situations, in tie games or with a one run lead he is lights out–batters hit less than .200 against him. Also, Aceves can and does eat a lot of innings; He had seven games in which he came out of the bullpen for at least three innings and didn’t allow a run, and four more in which he allowed just one.
The problem was that down the stretch he was the only one who was getting people out, and as a result he was overworked.
With Bailey and Melancon in the fold, and a gaggle of other relievers fighting for jobs, Aceves should feel more comfortable about his supporting cast for 2012. Manager Bobby Valentine will have the luxury to tinker a bit with this staff as it is shaping up; should Bard falter as a starter, he could also try Aceves in the rotation.
To me, however, Aceves’ role as a middle reliever is more valuable than keeping Bard as an eighth inning specialist. His ability to pitch almost every day (within reason) is the best way to maximize his value. Aceves is one of ten Red Sox players eligible for arbitration, and even with a good raise coming from his 2011 salary of $675,000 he’s still very affordable.
While Aceves has started 9 games in his career (5 for the Yankees and 4 with Boston), he is clearly a far superior pitcher as a reliever. As a starter, his ERA is 4.18; relieving, it is 2.62. His strikeout-to-walk ratio as a starter is almost even, while as a reliever he punches out almost three times as many as he walks.
7. With Bailey in the Bullpen, Melancon Gets Time to Adjust to the AL East
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The 26-year-old Melancon racked up 20 saves in 25 chances for the struggling Astros in 2011. He ended up 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA in 71 appearances. He held opponents to a .234 batting average and struck out 66 batters while walking 26.
The operative word in that sentence, however, is "Astros" (as in the 106-loss Astros).
He saved more than 35% of his team's wins last year even though he did not become the closer until mid-May. The problem is, contending teams devalue saves made on behalf of a cellar-dwelling ballclub. They don't believe that such saves constitute pitching under pressure.
So, the big question is, "Can Melancon make the transition from the laid-back, sparsely attended, meaningless games played by the bottom feeders of the NL Central to the pressure-cooker known as Fenway Park during a pennant race?"
To be fair, Melancon did appear in 16 games for the Yankees before being traded to Houston in the Lance Berkman deal in 2010—so he is not totally unfamiliar with the AL East.
At the same time, a period of readjustment won't hurt, and having Bailey around makes that so much easier. With Bard moving to the rotation, Melancon can be expected to fill the set-up role that Bard excelled in last year.
However, new manager Bobby Valentine will have options that Terry Francona did not have. For one thing, Andrew Bailey can pitch multiple innings, unlike Jonathan Papelbon. And Melancon has had success as a closer, so on a given day the roles might be reversed.
Former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni, interviewed on Comcast's "SportsNet Central" show last week, said: "And the thing I like most about it is . . . if the innings rack up and [Bard's] sitting on 130 in July and August and you think he's starting to get a little tired, give him a little breather [and] send him back into that bullpen. Now you've got a super bullpen. I think it gives them a little flexibility."
8. With Bailey in the Fold, Bobby Jenks Can Take More Time to Recuperate
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I think Bobby Jenks could be a sleeper who really helps pull the Red Sox bullpen together in 2012.
And having Andrew Bailey in that bullpen makes me more confident of that prediction.
With Bailey and Melancon added to a group of arms with great potential, there is less pressure for Jenks to be throwing hard at the start of the season. He will have the luxury of working his way slowly back into the mix as he rehabs from back surgery and a pulmonary embolism.
Eyebrows were raised around MLB when the Red Sox signed the former White Sox closer to a two-year, $12 million contract at the end of 2010. The impression at the time was that GM Theo Epstein had acquired both insurance and leverage with reference to Jonathan Papelbon's upcoming free agency.
I also seem to recall that Jenks was promised the opportunity to compete for the closer’s role when and if Papelbon departed; this is borne out by the fact that his contract includes incentives for games finished.
Although several teams had shown interest in Jenks, he jumped at the opportunity to join the Red Sox. “It wasn’t a matter of money or years. I wanted to play baseball for the Red Sox. I got that opportunity and I jumped on it,” he told Alex Speier of WEEI last April.
Jenks' signing was immediately followed by a well-publicized feud with former Chi-Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. According to Scott Merkin of MLB.com, Jenks said: "Why would I come back to that negativity? I'm looking forward to playing for a manager who knows how to run a bullpen."
Both Guillen and his son Oney responded in kind, and the resultant feud was well-described by David Brown of Yahoo.com: "The soap opera divorce between Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and right-hander Bobby Jenks—in which there seem to be only children and no parents—keeps deteriorating."
If for no other reason than to prove the White Sox made a mistake by non-tendering him, Jenks wanted to do well in Boston.
All those plans blew up, however. After being crucified by the fans and local media for his performance (15.2 innings, ERA of 6.32), Jenks went on the DL in July with an undisclosed back problem.
He was advised to have surgery, and in the process of being evaluated for that surgery in mid-September, he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. This is a potentially very serious condition; it involves a sudden blockage of an artery in the lung.
The treatment starts with blood thinners, and no surgeon would operate on his back while he was taking that medication.
Fortunately, the blood thinners worked, and Jenks was cleared for back surgery. He went under the knife on December 12.
His status for spring training (and the first part of the 2012 season) is very much up in the air, but know that Bailey is aboard, Jenks can be more methodical in his rehab. I have a hunch he will be a pleasant surprise, especially with the extra time to get ready.
Reading between the lines, I sense that the back surgery is not that complicated as surgeries go. Jenks himself insists that he will be ready for spring training.
“As far as the recovery, the doctors are talking about weeks and not months,’’ Jenks told Michael Vega of the Boston Globe in September.
Jenks is still relatively young, and assuming he comes through his medical issues without complications, there is every reason to hope that he could surprise everyone.
The 30-year-old right-hander still has a good arm and good stuff (Baseball Almanac reports that his fastball was clocked at 102 mph in Seattle in 2005). His career ERA of 3.53 with 173 saves is not too shabby, and there is one other intriguing possibility.
At the end of 2010, the Texas Rangers considered signing him as a starting pitcher. He started 142 games in the Angels minor league system between 2000 and 2004; it was not until the White Sox picked him up just prior to the 2005 season that he became a reliever.
This potential flexibility may be an ace in the hole for his future.
9. Getting a Closer Without Giving Up Youk Keeps the Big Starter Trade Alive
Earlier in this slideshow I wrote about the possibility of trading for a stud starter like Felix Hernandez.
Kevin Youkilis is the best (and most expendable) trade chip the Red Sox have. Had Boston been forced to part with him to get a closer, it would have been geometrically more difficult to assemble a reasonable package of talent that might convince another team to part with a top-flight pitcher.
Fortunately, Bailey is now in Boston…and Youk is still on the Red Sox roster as well.
Youkilis has serious credibility; at the start of last season he was 35th on the Sporting News list of the 50 greatest current baseball players.
But he also poses a dilemma for the Red Sox.
The way he plays the game has taken a toll on his body, as the series of recent injuries shows. Long-term, he needs to play first base or DH to keep his body from breaking down.
He won't be playing much first base in Boston with Adrian Gonzalez there. Assuming the Red Sox re-sign David Ortiz as DH, Youkilis doesn't really have a position to play full-time.
Youk will be 33 in March, and for a player of his caliber, he is relatively affordable at $12 million for 2012. This is the fourth and final year of a contract he signed in 2009, although there is a $13 million team option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.
No one plays the game harder than Youk, and I would hate to have to play against him. But a number of teams need corner infielders, and I could see Youkilis involved in a trade for pitching with clubs such as the Braves, Giants, Rockies or Pirates.
10. The Recent Bullpen Additions Make the Wakefield Decision Easier
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One of the reasons most given for keeping Tim Wakefield is his flexibility: he can be a spot starter, or a pitcher coming out of the bullpen.
The stronger that bullpen gets, the less need there is to have Wakefield around for bullpen emergencies. With Bard and Aceves both rotation candidates, Wakefield is being squeezed out of his starter role as well. At the same time, the Red Sox have re-signed Andrew Miller, who can also start. And let's not forget Daisuke Matsuzaka, who should be pitching again after the All-Star break,
Wakefield is also the oldest active player in the majors (he turned 45 on Aug. 2), and is the longest-tenured Red Sox ballplayer. He wants to return to Boston for an 18th season.
On Dec. 3, Peter Abraham of theBoston Globe quoted Wakefield as saying, “I have a strong desire to pitch one more year for the Red Sox.”
Abraham added that GM Ben Cherington "has been cautious in discussing Wakefield, saying only that the team owed it to him to explain exactly what role he could fill next season—if indeed any."
The problem is that his once-fearsome knuckleball has lost much of its flutter, and American League batters are getting more familiar with his stuff—at least as familiar as a batter can ever get with such an unpredictable pitch.
Complementing his 65 mph knuckleball is a 73 mph fastball (he has usually led the league in slowest average fastball) and a curveball that usually chugs up to the plate at less than 60 mph.
After the 2011 season, Wakefield is the Red Sox career leader in innings pitched and nine other pitching categories–some good, some bad.
He is also second in games pitched (behind Bob Stanley) and also second in strikeouts to Roger Clemens. He is third in wins, six behind Clemens and Cy Young.
In addition to being well-regarded in the clubhouse, Wake is also one of the most generous and community-minded players in the game.
The Red Sox nominated him eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to the player who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community. He finally won it in 2010.
But from a baseball and a business perspective, it does not make sense for the Red Sox to bring him back. The acquisition of Andrew Bailey may be the last nail in that coffin.
This past season, Wakefield was not a clutch performer. With two outs and runners in scoring position, batters hit .306 against him. In "late and close" situations, batters hit .417 against him. He also posted a second-half ERA of 5.55.
The added stress on the catching staff of corralling his knuckleball (which is clearly not as unhittable as it used to be) may simply no longer be worth it.
Wakefield also lost me with his untimely statement that he should be kept around so that the fans could see him become the 'winningest' pitcher in Red Sox history. I don’t think those fans want to watch the Red Sox lose a dozen extra games trying to achieve that milestone.
It is quite possible that Wakefield could play a year for another team, however, especially in the National League. Abraham wrote that Wakefield nodded affirmatively when presented with that option.
I think that is what will happen.