Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe quotes Bobby Valentine a saying that "bullpens win pennants."
Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say, "The right bullpens win pennants."
Every Fantasy owner knows the old adage, "Don't pay for saves"—because they end up coming from the most unexpected sources.
As far as bullpen options go, Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, and Rich Hill have been discussed on separate slides. Felix Doubront has been covered under starter options (slide 9).
Over the past several weeks, GM Ben Cherington added to the gaggle of arms competing for roster spots by signing a number of pitchers who were not with the Red Sox organization last year to minor league free agent contracts with invitations to spring training. They include Jesse Carlson, Will Inman, Justin Germano, Doug Mathis, Chorye Spoone, Tony Pena, Jr., Justin Thomas and Sean White.
One consideration that will weigh heavily in final roster decisions is the fact that Franklin Morales, Miller, and Doubront are out of options, meaning the Red Sox must keep them on the major league team or risk losing them.
A last-minute—but not unpleasant—complication is the addition of Cubs reliever Chris Carpenter to the mix, as compensation from the Cubs for the signing of Theo Epstein. To make room for Carpenter on the 40-man roster, the team placed relief pitcher Bobby Jenks on the 60-day disabled list.
According to ESPNBoston.com, Carpenter's fastball topped out at 100.2 MPH last season. He was one of only 13 MLB pitchers to crack 100.
The 6-foot-4, 26-year-old right-hander was a third round draft pick of the Cubs in 2008. According to former ESPN.com Insider Jason Grey, Carpenter would have gone higher based on talent, but medical concerns caused some teams to back off. He had Tommy John surgery in 2005, followed by a second procedure to clean up the elbow in 2006. Gray added that he dropped out of the Cape Cod League in 2007 due to a tired arm.
He supposedly has a good slider and a decent changeup, but control is his biggest problem; in
Carpenter hasn't had any medical problems since. He started 27 games in 2009 and 26 in 2010. He was converted to a reliever in 2011 and made 42 relief appearances combined at Double-A, Triple-A and for the Cubs. With Chicago, he had a 2.79 ERA in 10 relief outings in his first major league action. He is 21-19 with a 3.62 ERA in 96 outings (60 starts) in four minor league seasons.
Other relievers already on the 40-man roster include Michael Bowden, Franklin Morales and Matt Albers.
Michael Bowden was drafted as a starter in 2005, as a sandwich-round selection (47th overall pick). Following a promotion from Double-A Portland in July 2008, he was rated the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization. In his four years at the AAA level, he has posted a respectable ERA of 3.27.
He was exclusively a starter through the 2009 season, then entered some 2010 games in relief.
His coaches and managers noted that he just loved to pitch, and chafed at the five off days between starts. They thought relief work—where he could pitch more often–might better suit his makeup.
He pitched in the bullpen in the Venezuela winter league, then reported to spring training in 2011 prepared to be a full-time reliever.
At Pawtucket, Bowden overpowered right-handed hitters, holding them to a 5-for-55 mark (.091) with one walk and 23 strikeouts. On the other hand, lefties hit him at a .370 clip, a trend that could be of some concern at the major league level.
After compiling a 2.73 ERA in 41 relief appearances at AAA with 61 strikeouts and only 18 walks, he earned a September call-up.
In 20 major league innings, however, he walked 11 while striking out 17. He also gave up 19 hits, and some observers suggested that the way he throws the ball gives major league hitters too good a look at what’s coming.
PawSox broadcaster Dan Hoard wrote, “Bowden is the type of kid we all root for. He’s friendly, polite, and totally dedicated to becoming the best pitcher he can possibly be.”
Some believe Bowden has done all he can at Triple-A, and it’s now time to show that he’s major league material.
Franklin Morales provided one of the enduring memories for me of the last month of the season when he ended a game by picking Josh Hamilton off first base.
Doing a little digging, I learned that only John Lester had as many pickoffs in 2011 as Morales (5), and he did it in six times the number of innings.
The quality of his pickoff move is an example of the tantalizing ability this 25-year-old Venezuelan has. Unfortunately, he has never lived up to the potential the Rockies saw in him when they signed him in 2002.
Morales has the arm and the skill set to be a top big-league reliever, but he has never thrown enough strikes to get there. While Morales has held left-handed hitters to a .201 average during his career, he has always struggled with command. He has walked 97 men in 179 2/3 innings.
He went 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA in parts of five seasons in Colorado before being traded to the Red Sox on May 19 of 2011.
For the season he had a reasonable 3.62 ERA in 36 games, but seemed to pitch well only every other month. For example, in 13 appearances in August, Morales struck out 13 and walked only two with a 1.86 ERA.
As the 2011 season wore down, Morales was the last left-hander still standing in the bullpen, and the results were less than spectacular. He gave up eight hits, including two HR and walked four in nine innings in the last month.
The Red Sox avoid arbitration with reliever Franklin Morales last month, agreeing to a one-year, $850,000 contract, according to the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham
Matt Albers was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2001 draft by Houston, went to Baltimore in 2007 as part of the Miguel Tejada trade. He entered the season with a career earned run average over 5.00, but for the first half of the season he was lights out, with an ERA of 2.55.
That hot streak continued through July; he appeared in 10 games that month and did not give up a single run. Between the third week in May and the end of July, Albers allowed just two runs and 17 hits in 25.2 innings. He gave up zero earned runs in 10 July appearances, then inexplicably blew up to a 12.34 ERA in 11 August appearances.
Which Matt Albers will show up for 2012? Was conditioning an issue for the heavy-looking pitcher?
Scott Atchison is not on the 40-man roster, but he has proven himself to be a valuable commodity for the Red Sox. He has also fought against the odds in his baseball career, and I for one feel he has the ability to become a full-time middle reliever for the Red Sox. I am rooting for him to make the 2012 team.
Drafted way down in the 49th round by Seattle in 1998, he toiled in minor-league obscurity for the better part of seven years...the first four exclusively as a starter.
Atchison signed with the Red Sox as a minor league free agent in December 2007, but Japan came calling and the Hanshin Tigers purchased his rights.
He pitched quite well for Hanshin during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but returned to the US so his baby daughter could get better treatment for a rare medical condition.
He earned a contract at the start of the 2010 season, and over the past two years Scott has moved back and forth between Pawtucket and Boston, working under a split MLB/MiLB contract.
One of his greatest assets has been his control; in 61.1 innings with Pawtucket in 2011, he struck out 72 and walked only 9. When called up to Boston, he had a very respectable 2.83 K/BB ratio in 17 games with an ERA of 3.26. He also allowed zero home runs.
Joseph Werner, writing on SeedlingstoStars.com, said, “Atchison’s season with Pawtucket was so absurdly good it’s amazing that he hasn’t drawn more attention… he was, simply, flat-out unhittable against right-handers...39 K’s and two walks.”
Werner reports that he ranked no lower than 13th in major pitching categories among the 173 total qualifying pitchers.
He concludes, “…there’s no reason to believe that this journeyman can’t, at the bare minimum, become a serviceable middle relief pitcher for the Sox next season.”
The bottom line is, the Red Sox have a wealth of options (as well as a lot of organizational bullpen depth), and I would expect the bullpen that goes north at the end of March will undergo many changes before the end of the season.
Former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni, interviewed on Comcast's "SportsNet Central" show recently, 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."
More so than any other position, filling out the bullpen is a total crapshoot every year. It should be interesting.