By Maureen Mullen
BOSTON -- On the first day of winter, the ground outside covered with a layer of new snow, the Red Sox appear to have their roster just about set for the 2011 season.
One of the last pieces fell into place Tuesday with the announcement that they'd officially signed free-agent reliever Bobby Jenks to a two-year, 12 million contract. The deal, agreed upon late last week, was contingent on Jenks' passing a physical.
"Just exciting to get the opportunity to come here," Jenks said in a conference call. "Obviously, with the team they've put together this year, very exciting, very appetizing. I've always wanted to play in Boston.
"A few years back . . . me and Josh Beckett were hanging out and I told him this is one of the places I always wanted to be. And once the opportunity was available, I jumped on it.
"It's just a lot of winning tradition. Even before the curse thing, Boston was one of those teams you grew up watching and one of my favorite teams growing up. And that's why, obviously having the chance, who wouldn't want to jump on it?"
Jenks, who was the White Sox closer since making his big league debut July 6, 2005, was non-tendered by Chicago earlier this month, making him a free agent. In six seasons with the White Sox he compiled a record of 14-18 with a 3.40 ERA, 173 saves, 26 blown saves, and a 1.21 WHIP over 341 23 innings in 329 games.
In Boston for now, anyway he will be a set-up man for closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"We feel really lucky that Bobby wanted to pitch here and we were able to get someone of his caliber and to join our bullpen and help Dan Bard set up for Pap," said Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "It's not every day you can bring in someone of this caliber without a closer opening. So we feel lucky that happened.
"Bobby's someone that's got great stuff. But we see him as more than just a thrower. He really knows how to pitch, as well. He goes right at guys and throws strikes, brings the kind of fearlessness to the mound that we look for in a market like Boston. So we think he's going to fit in great and hopefully be part of a pen that's one of the best ones we've had around here in a long time."
The addition of an established closer had the potential to ruffle some feathers. Epstein said he's kept Papelbon who had a career-worst season in 2010 with a 3.90 ERA and eight blown saves and is due to become a free agent after the 2011 season apprised of the situation.
"We kept Pap's agent up to speed the whole time, both earlier in the offseason and the last couple of weeks as we filled out our bullpen, just as a courtesy," Epstein said. "And then I left Pap a voicemail after we signed Jenks just to let him know that obviously we still see him as our closer and now we got two power set-up guys to get him the ball in the ninth inning.
"Pap, I'm sure, is fine with this. I mean, who wouldn't want guys like this pitching alongside him in the bullpen? And Pap kind of disappears in the offseason and does his own thing and shows up ready to go in spring training like always. Every time we add someone of quality to the bullpen he's excited about it, and I believe that certainly should be the case again this time."
Jenks, who does not compare himself to Papelbon, is looking forward to working with the Sox closer, Bard, and newcomer Dan Wheeler. He doesn't expect any difficulty adjusting to his new role.
"It's all mental," he said. "I go out there and stay focused and just approach it the same."
Jenks, though, is coming off his worst season in several statistical categories. Had he stayed with the White Sox, he likely would have had to compete for the closer's job.
A fifth-round pick of the Angels in 2000, Jenks turns 30 in March. He had a career-worst 4.44 ERA and 9.2 hits-per-nine innings in 2010, giving up 26 earned runs and 54 hits (both the most he's allowed since 2006) in 52 23 innings, his lowest total in a full season. But he also posted a 10.4 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, his best mark in a full season, and 3.39 KBB ratio, the second-best of his career.
Since 2006, Jenks' first full season, he is third among American League relievers with 167 saves, third with 264 games finished, sixth with 297 appearances, and seventh with 302 13 innings and 284 strikeouts.
In 2006 and '07 he finished second in saves in the AL, with 41 and 40, respectively. But his save total has fallen each season since, to 27 in 2010, his lowest number in a full season. His innings pitched have also fallen in each season, to 52 23 last season, also his lowest in a full season.
But his velocity suffered no downturn in 2010. According to fangraphs.com, the velocity on all four of his pitches fastball, slider, changeup, curveball was above his career average.
He views his 2010 downturn as an aberration.
"Just a bad year," he said. "Things didn't fall into place. It seemed like every broken-bat hit just fell into the right spot and that's how I felt about last year. Really frustrating and, really, the ball just didn't go my way sometimes."
He missed the last 27 games of the season with ulnar neuritis, an elbow ailment. He missed the final 11 games of 2009 with a strained right calf, and in 2008 he was on the disabled list from June 30 to July 18 with left scapula bursitis.
He said his elbow is fully healthy.
"I feel 100 percent right now," he said. "The elbow thing going on last year was more a scare for everyone than something that was actually wrong. So going into the offseason I knew I was 100 percent healthy. So it was frustrating for me not being able to finish up the season, to at least show people I was healthy. But medically I was cleared to go and I was throwing off the mound at the end of the year, throwing bullpens at 100 percent. Going into this spring I'm going to be 100 percent and healthy and ready to go."
He has not had to adjust his offseason program because of his elbow ailment.
"Last year finishing up, I finished up healthy. So going into the offseason I knew that I didn't really have to worry about anything, focus on anything any more than normal," he said. "It was just more of a peace of mind knowing that I was healthy to finish the year."
His career numbers against A.L. East opponents granted, all in small sample sizes are interesting. His 7.47 ERA against the Orioles is his highest against any team, followed at No. 2 by the Blue Jays, with a 6.92 ERA. The four career home runs he's allowed to the Blue Jays are tied with the Tigers for the most he's allowed but in 13 innings pitched against Toronto, compared to 40 13 against Detroit.
Conversely, the best ERA he's posted against any team is the 1.06 against the Yankees, with the Rays at No. 2 with a 1.29 mark.
Despite his difficulties last season, as a proven closer he adds depth and flexibility to a bullpen that has undergone a much-needed rehab after finishing 2010 as one of the worst in the American League. Finishing with an ERA of 4.24, only the Orioles and Royals -- who finished last in the A.L. East and Central, respectively -- had worse bullpen ERAs in 2010. The Sox bullpen allowed a slugging percentage of .414, again ahead of just the Royals and Orioles, and a league-high 63 home runs, while suffering 22 blown saves, fourth worst in the major leagues, better than only the Orioles' 27 in the A.L.
In addition to Jenks and Wheeler, the Sox have signed several other relievers who will compete for jobs in the pen including right-handers Matt Albers and Matt Harvey and lefties Andrew Miller, Lenny DiNardo, Rich Hill and Randy Williams -- along with returnees Felix Doubront and Tim Wakefield.
Epstein said he's not done revamping the bullpen.
"We'll see," he said. "We certainly like the non-roster options that we have from the left side with Rich Hill and Andrew Miller, Randy Williams. So, we're certainly comfortable coming to spring training and looking more closely at that group. There are also still some guys out there that we're talking to.
"But I think the biggest thing is that we've added a lot of depth, a lot of experience, and power arms, and strike throwers to our pen. Last year it was a struggle all season long for us to cobble it together and give manager Terry Francona some quality options out there. And I feel like even if we broke camp today we have an abundance of options and different looks and guys who can go through the heart of the other team's order and hopefully get the ball to Pap."
One of those "guys out there" is free agent lefty Brian Fuentes, whom the Sox are interested in.
Miller, who his has yet to live up to his first-round selection in the 2006 draft by the Tigers, will probably wind up being a starter in the long run, but initially will work out of the pen.
"We're open to both," Epstein said. "I think long term the goal is to get him back to being a starting pitcher and he's got tremendous ceiling as a starter. I think for the short term it's probably worth our while to have him in the pen in spring training. I think some of the adjustments that we plan to make with him, not go into too much detail, but simplifying things lend themselves to a look as a reliever in spring training. So I think ultimately there's still the chance for him to be a starter and a really good one.
"But along the way, because the need is more likely to present itself as a reliever for the organization, we're going to certainly keep that option open as we go."
Likewise, Doubront, whom the organization considers highly, is expected to be a starter later in his career.
"Long term we see Felix as a starting pitcher," Epstein said. "He's going to come into spring training and be one of the guys who gets stretched out on a starter's program. But we're certainly going to evaluate him as a potential fit and a good one as a left-hander in our bullpen to start the year."
Infielder Brent Dlugach, whom the Sox acquired in November, was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Jenks.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen