Free agency overview: Bullpen

Free agency overview: Bullpen

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

Here is a look at the Red Sox' options in the bullpen. See links at the bottom of the story for an analysis of other positions.

OVERVIEW
Jonathan Papelbon returns as closer, with Daniel Bard as the principal setup man -- and closer-in-waiting for the inevitable free agent departure of Papelbon after the 2011 season.

Scott Atchison returns, having had his option picked up, and will be slotted into middle relief. Expect that Rich Hill, too, will return, as the Sox see some upside for him as a lefty specialist. That would seem to rule out Hideki Okajima, who is arbitration eligible. If Okajima is willing to take a significant pay cut -- from 2.75 million down to, say, 1.2 million or so -- the Sox might bring him back. Otherwise, he's an obvious non-tender candidate.

Unless the Sox want to utilize Felix Doubront out of the bullpen again, that leaves as many as four spots available in the bullpen. The Sox dearly need another trustworthy set-up option so as to not overburden Bard.

The good news: There are plenty of options available on the free-agent market, including many who were targets of the Red Sox at the July 31 deadline.

The bad news: The Sox hate the idea of giving multiyear deals to veteran relievers, believing (correctly) that they're often inconsistent and not sound investments for long-term deals.

Worse, the Sox might end up having to surrender draft picks as compensation since many of the best relievers have been classified as Type A in the Elias Ranking System. It's worth noting, however, that the Sox stand to get picks back should Martinez and Beltre sign elsewhere.

FREE AGENT TARGETS
Scott DownsDowns was the most sought-after reliever at the deadline, but the Toronto Blue Jays held firm for their demand of two top prospects. He's left-handed and a power arm, which will put him in high demand.

Downs had a superb 0.995 WHIP last season, and walked just 14 in 61 13 innings, On the other hand, his strikeouts were down (just 7 per nine innings), and at 34, that's at least a little troublng.

Would the Sox be willing to go, say, two years, 12 million with an option for a third year? That's what it might take.

Grant BalfourBalfour has been a mainstay of the Tampa Bay bullpen for the last few years and, like Downs, will be in demand. He's proven to be durable, but over the last four seasons, here's the breakdown on his ERA: 7.66 in 2007, 1.54 in 2008, 4.81 in 2009 and 2.28 in 2010.

See what we mean about the unpredictability of veteran middle and set-up relievers?

Jason FrasorLike Downs, Frasor has been a big part of the Toronto bullpen in recent years. Over the last two seasons, Frasor has averaged 65 appearances and struck out a batter per innings.

There have been some questions about his toughness, but he won't be asked to close here -- or anywhere else, for that matter.
Brian Fuentes
Fuentes lost his closer's job to Fernando Rodney with the Angels prior to his trade to Minnesota -- just as he lost the closer's role in Colorado previous to that.

It's clear that he thrives more in a set-up capacity than in save situations.

He's left-handed, which adds to his value and to his attractiveness to the Red Sox, who could use some balance and a complement to the late-inning right-handed duo of Bard and Papelbon.

Fuentes doesn't throw as hard as he used to, but he's experienced and can still get hitters out.
Matt Guerrier
Guerrier has been one of the sturdiest relievers in the game in recent years, making 73 or more appearances in the last four seasons. He doesn't throw hard, relying more on a sinker-slider repertoire to induce groundballs, but he doesn't get hit a lot (114 hits allowed in his last 147 13 inning over the last two seasons).

Other names of noteJeremy Affeldt, Jesse Crain, Joaquin Benoit

OUTFIELD---> Will the Red Sox be willing to spend on the bigguns?

THIRDBASE ---> How will Theo Epstein deal with a thinmarket?

FIRSTBASE ---> Could a former Sox slugger be the answer in2011?

CATCHER---> Is there a bargain backstop to be had on thecheap?

BULLPEN---> Which relievers could be headed toBoston?

SeanMcAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Betts and Bradley Jr. combine for seven RBI, Red Sox roll to 9-2 win

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Betts and Bradley Jr. combine for seven RBI, Red Sox roll to 9-2 win

The Boston Red Sox put up six runs in the first inning and coasted to a 9-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.

Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. led the way for the Red Sox with four and three RBI respectfully. Both outfielders had two-run home runs in the Sox’ big first inning.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright gave up one earned run in four innings, his ERA for the spring is now 0.68.

The Red Sox are back in action again on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m when Rick Porcello makes his final spring training start against the Minnesota Twins.

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Infielder Marco Hernandez may make the Red Sox roster after all.

Fellow infielder Josh Rutledge, the presumptive 25th man on the Red Sox, suffered a left hamstring strain on Tuesday against the Pirates, according to reporters in Florida, including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.

If Rutledge isn’t ready for opening day, Hernandez, a left-handed hitter, may have his crack. 

The question is whether the Sox would be comfortable without a right-handed bat to complement both Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland on the corners. Rutledge was going to give the Sox that right-handed look they sought. (When Hanley Ramirez's shoulder will be healthy enough to play first base is unclear, but isn't expected to be too long.)

Neither Rutledge nor Hernandez has played first base in the majors or minors.

A big-league rookie last year, Hernandez has done decently against lefties at the upper levels of the minors, hitting .328 vs. them at Triple-A Pawtucket last season in 67 at-bats. He hit .315 in 54 at-bats at Pawtucket, with a .318 average against them that season in 88 at-bats for Double-A Portland.

Rutledge is a Rule 5 draft pick who has to remain on the major league 25-man roster the whole season or the Sox risk losing him. Placement on the disabled list doesn’t affect his status unless he’s on the disabled list for a very lengthy time.

An alternative option is Steve Selsky, who has first-base experience, but he's already been optioned.