In Spring Training of 2007, the Boston Red Sox were considering moving closer Jonathan Papelbon into the starting rotation. The only problem was the Red Sox did not have suitable options at the closer position. Papelbon became the closer when he went into former manager Terry Francona’s office and said that he would like to remain as the closer of the Red Sox.
Fast forward nearly four years later and the Red Sox have another conundrum: Whether they should use Daniel Bard as a starting pitcher or a closer. Bard has stated his willingness to perform in whatever role the Red Sox choose for him.
When pitchers and catchers arrive on February 13th, Bard will most likely be stretched out and used as a starting pitcher.
Bard needs to be named the closer because he is more valuable in that role. Over the last two seasons, the Red Sox have relied on Bard to get out of many pressure situations with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. For most of the last two seasons, Bard has been one of the best relievers in the game. He had one bad month in September when went 0-4. Bard does not have the repertoire yet to be a legitimate starting pitcher. He has an electric fastball with a devastating slider, but he has yet to develop a third pitch. Bard has been working on using his changeup more, but the Red Sox already have one unknown in possibly moving Alfredo Aceves to a spot in the rotation.
The last time Bard was used as a starter, he was lacking command of his pitches in the minor leagues. When Bard pitched in the South Atlantic Division for the Greenville Drive, his walks per nine innings pitched was 8.2 with just a 5.5 K/9. When Bard was moved to the California League, he posted a 10.12 ERA and almost 15 BB/9 in a span of five starts. After the Red Sox converted him to a reliever in 2008, Bard dominated the minor leagues.
The market for closers is still strong. Philadelphia Phillies’ former closer Ryan Madsen remains without a team and the Red Sox have been in discussions to trade for Oakland A’s closer Andrew Bailey. The Red Sox just traded infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland to the Houston Astros for the Astros’ closer, Mark Melancon.
Melancon recorded 20 saves last year in 25 chances, but he is young and Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman reported that the Red Sox plan to use Melancon as a setup man.
There is a plethora of starting pitchers the Red Sox can acquire. Ben Cherington and the front office have been in discussions with the Chicago White Sox about John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Former Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent and could be a good fit with the Red Sox because he is a ground ball pitcher who has been consistent for the Dodgers. A’s starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez has been rumored to be a trade chip, but the Red Sox have balked at dealing for Gonzalez because the asking price has been too high. If that dollar figure comes down, the Red Sox need to jump on getting Gonzalez because he is talented and young at only 26 years old. He is another southpaw who is coming off two very good seasons. Gonzalez went 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA in 2010 and 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA last year.
Bard should be utilized as the closer and the front office should go after bringing in established starting pitchers to fill the back end of the rotation. These pitchers should be the type of players who will take the ball every fifth day and will give the Red Sox their best effort every time they step on the mound. Meanwhile, Bard should be handed the ball in the ninth inning.