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Jenks, the forgotten man in the Red Sox bullpen, will come back with something to prove.
OK, so I'm really going out on a limb on this one. But here's the thought process.
Eyebrows were raised around MLB when the Red Sox signed former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks 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 Chisox 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; it involves a sudden blockage of an artery in the lung.
The treatment starts with blood thinners, and no surgeon will operate on his back while he is taking that medication.
He is now scheduled to be evaluated again before the end of the year. If the blood thinners work, Jenks could be cleared for back surgery. If the blood thinners don’t work, he may face surgery to fix the embolism.
Even though his status for spring training (and the first part of the 2012 season) is very much up in the air, I have a hunch he will be a pleasant surprise.
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.