The centerpiece of the Boston Red Sox off-season bullpen rebuild, new closer Andrew Bailey, will not be able to pitch until at least the All-Star break, following surgery to repair his injured thumb. Bailey was acquired in the off-season’s biggest trade, as the Boston Red Sox sent last year’s rookie starting right fielder, Josh Reddick to the Oakland Athletics along with two low minors prospects for the closer and also right fielder Ryan Sweeney. Critics of the trade voiced concern about Bailey’s health at the time and they have been proven correct in that fear, though this current issue is completely unrelated to the shoulder and forearm troubles that limited his innings the past two seasons.
The loss of Andrew Bailey means the Red Sox are in need of another pitcher capable of stepping into that role. For the time being, it seems that the solution will come internally, with Mark Melancon as the most likely candidate for the job. Melancon was the closer for the Houston Astros just last season and recorded 20 saves in 25 chances. The righty has extreme ground ball stuff and also strikes out a fair number of hitters (9.0 K/9 career), making him a logical choice for the job.
The other option Boston may employ is Alfredo Aceves. Aceves just missed out on a starting spot this spring, as Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard were named the fourth and fifth starters, respectively. Aceves has stuff that is more associated with a starting pitcher, striking out just 6.26 per nine in his career, but also limiting home runs (7.2 HR/FB) and getting weak contact (.235 BABIP). Should Melancon move into the closer’s role Aceves would almost certainly be the primary setup man at this point.
Another dark horse option could be Vicente Padilla. Boston signed Padilla to compete for a spot in the rotation, but the team saw signs that he was better suited for short stints during Spring Training and took him out of the running. Padilla has better strike out ability than Aceves when relieving, but he also has greater control and home run issues. While it is possible that Bobby Valentine tries Padilla in the closer’s role immediately, it seems more likely that he will need to earn a shot with strong performances in the earlier innings.
The one solution Boston does not appear ready to consider is taking former setup man Daniel Bard out of the rotation and installing him as the closer. When Jonathan Papelbon left the team early in the off-season, the logical assumption was that Daniel Bard would take over closing duties. However, the acquisitions of Melancon and Bailey made it clear that the Red Sox were truly committed to their plan of converting him into a starter. On WEEI this Monday, Bard said that he had not been asked about returning to the pen in Bailey’s absence. After nearly two months of grooming the 26 year old pitcher for starting work, Boston has shown no signs of going back on the plan.
The timetable for Bailey’s return is still unclear, but it will not be in the first few months of the season. The Boston Red Sox may ultimately go outside the organization for additional relief pitching, but at this point there is no word on what that could look like. The Red Sox will start the season with someone else stepping up into Bailey’s role, and regardless of who it is, the pressure will be on them.