Bard’s failed attempt at working his way into the rotation shattered his confidence. He’s struggled mightily since last summer as a result, even back in familiar relief roles in the minor leagues.
Now that the Red Sox bullpen is loaded with stars like Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, Bard is not needed. His demotion to Double-A Portland confirmed as much. So, with no immediate need for more relief help, what should the Red Sox do with Daniel Bard? Here are three possibilities.
The prevailing logic among fans and analysts is pretty cut and dry: Coach Bard back into a high leverage reliever.
There is some merit to this idea. Bard made his career as one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game. In 2010, for example, Bard overpowered opposing hitters with an eye-popping 1.93 ERA, and 76 strikeouts in 74 innings of relief work.
He hasn’t been the same since.
Bard’s spring performance is a good barometer for his overall game right now. He threw eight innings of work, and managed an impressive 11.3 K/9 rate, but also posted an ugly 4.5 BB/9 rate. He’s taken a dive since his brilliant 2010 season.
Ever since his failed attempt at starting, Bard has had trouble rediscovering his command. He still gets lots of swings and misses, particularly on his slider, but he often doesn’t know where his pitches are going.
No doubt, John Farrell hopes the minor league coaches will help Bard maintain a more consistent arm slot, which should help vastly improve his command. His road back to the majors will not be easy, but he still has the talent to get there.
The easiest solution to any problem is to pass it off to someone else—words to live by.
Most fans love Bard too much to even consider trading him, and rightfully so. Bard’s electric fastball was a spectacle in Fenway that was often worth the price of admission alone.
However, as I mentioned in the introduction, the Red Sox have a very strong bullpen this year that makes Bard more or less expendable. So, why not trade him?
Before trading him, the Red Sox recall Bard from the minors for an easy series, perhaps against the Astros for example. Even if he’s off his game, Bard should be able to handle a weaker offense. This would build up his trade value.
The Red Sox shouldn’t expect too much in return for Bard, perhaps a low-level prospect with some projection.
This would be an example of adding by subtracting. Bard has become a bit of a headache in recent years. While he was invaluable early in his career, his recent struggles, and concerning velocity drop, suggest that he may never regain his form.
Thus, letting him go should be on the table. After all, the Red Sox farm system has no shortage of young flamethrowers who could take his spot in short order.
You’re probably a little surprised by this slide. Before you shoot down to the comment section to tell me I’m an idiot who knows nothing about baseball, hear me out. OK? OK.
It’s true that Bard has already tried starting, unsuccessfully. However, it’s possible that, given the necessary time and coaching, he could carve out a starting role again.
As I have mentioned previously, Bard is not needed in the bullpen this year. So, this situation gives the Red Sox some time and freedom to experiment with the young right-hander.
When Bard was drafted 28th overall in the 2006 draft, Boston’s front office expected him to become a starter. He had a plus fastball right out of college, and his strong, 6’4” frame gave him the durability to work deep into games. Bard also featured a slider and a changeup that both had good potential.
However, command issues forced Bard to the bullpen where he dominated at every level. Eventually dropping his changeup and developing his slider into a plus pitch, Bard enjoyed success in the majors.
Although he’s had a strong career in the bullpen, Bard never reached his full potential as a pitcher. And since the Red Sox don’t need him, they could keep him in the minors to try to reach that potential one last time.
The Double-A level, where Bard currently resides, is the most difficult level for many minor league pitchers. It is commonly known as the point where strong secondary pitches become vital to success.
Bard already has a big league-caliber slider and fastball in his back pocket. His changeup, although not refined, is a decent pitch as well. If he can work with the pitching coaches at Double-A to improve the pitch, as well as his overall command, there’s no reason why he can’t build himself into a strong back-end starter.
Personally, of the three options outlined, I would support this one. Bard has no reason to rush back to the majors, so why not take the time to become the best that he can be? And there’s very little risk involved. If he realizes starting is a pipe dream, he can just go right back to the bullpen, no harm done.
All statistical information obtained from Fangraphs.com