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

Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

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Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals

QUOTES:

"We continually do a great job in creating opportunities and I'm confident that (the struggles with men in scoring position) will turn.'' - John Farrell

"When you start off with a five-run spot in the first, that's a tough deficit to overcome.'' - Steven Wright.

"That's how it goes sometimes. Sometimes, we score when we're not expecting to and then when we need to score, sometimes it doesn't happen.'' - Mookie Betts on the team going 4-for-15 with RISP.

 

NOTES:

* The loss was just the third in the last 13 series openers for the Red Sox.

* The game marked the first time in 20 home games in which the Sox never led.

* Boston was 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

* The first four hitters in the order were 13-for-19 (.684). The fifth-through-nine hitters, however, were just 2-for-21 (.095).

* Mookie Betts (five hits) leads the majors with 55 multi-hit games.

* Dustin Pedroia has reached base in each of his last eight plate appearances.

* David Ortiz's double was the 625th of his career, passing Hank Aaron to move into 10 place in MLB history.

* Ortiz leads the A.L. in doubles (41) and extra-base hits (72).

 

STARS:

1) Eric Hosmer

Hosmer cranked a three-run homer into the Monster Seats four batters into the game, and the Royals were off and running with a five-run inning.

2) Ian Kennedy

The Royals starter wasn't dominant, allowing nine hits in 5 1/3 innings, but he bailed himself out of a number of jams and limited the Sox to just two runs.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts had his first career five-hit night and knocked in two of the three Red Sox runs, though he also got himself picked off first base.

 

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

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First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

First impressions from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals:

 

Steven Wright recovered nicely after the first inning, but the damage was done.

Wright's last five innings featured just three hits allowed -- one in the infield. But the first inning did the Red Sox in -- two walks followed by a three-run homer, then a single and a two-run homer.

Whether this was a matter of rust for Wright -- who last pitched three weeks ago Friday night -- or an early inability to command his knuckleball is uncertain.

The fact is, Wright dug an early hole for his teammates, and he had the misfortune to do so against a team with the best bullpen in baseball.

To his credit, Wright kept the game somewhat within reach thereafter, but the five-run head start proved too much of a jump.

 

It's time to worry a little about Jackie Bradley.

Bradley was just 7-for-40 in the just-completed road trip, and things didn't get any better on the first night of the homestand.

In the first, he came up with two on and two out and struck out swinging to strand both baserunners. In the third, he came to the plate with runners on the corners and, again, struck out swinging.

We're seeing the same kind of slump that Bradley fell into in previous seasons, where even contact is hard to find, with nine strikeouts in the last 16 at-bats.

Problem is, with Andrew Benitendi on the DL, there aren't a lot of options for John Farrell with the Red Sox outfield.

 

Trying to get Fernando Abad and Junichi Tazawa back on track in low- leverage mop-up didn't work.

Tazawa had a perfect seventh, but gave up a monster shot into the center field bleachers to Lorenzo Cain to start the eighth.

Abad entered, and while he did record a couple of strikeouts, also gave up a single, a walk and threw a wild pitches before he could complete the inning.

Getting some work for the two was the right idea, given that the Sox were down by three runs at the time. A good outing might help either regain some confidence and turn the corner.

But not even that could be accomplished Friday night.