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

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
 
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”