With one stroke of the pen, the Boston Red Sox solidified the roles of their pitching staff. The Red Sox acquired 27-year-old closer Andrew Bailey along with reserve outfielder Ryan Sweeney from the Oakland A’s for Josh Reddick, minor league pitcher Raul Alcantara, and minor league corner infielder Miles Head.
Prior to Bailey’s arrival, the Red Sox had several unanswered questions at this late stage of the offseason. With Papelbon gone, who was going to be Boston’s closer in 2012? Was it going to be Daniel Bard or newly acquired Mark Melancon? Surely the Red Sox wouldn’t be counting on Melancon or even Bobby Jenks as the closer in 2012, right? What were the Red Sox plans for the back end of the rotation? Remember– that little problem they had for all of September? Remember how they were rumored to be trying to land Chris Capuano in case of a one-game playoff with Tampa? Was Daniel Bard going to be moved to the starting rotation? But, wait, Boston might need him as the closer. What to do with Alfredo Aceves?
The addition of Bailey answers all those questions. Bailey, when healthy, is a bona fide top-tier closer. That knocks Melancon down a peg. Melancon should fill Bard’s eighth inning set-up role. He is much better served in that spot. That’ll free up Bard to focus on making the transition to starter heading into the season. The same can be said for Aceves. A starting rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Bard, and Aceves looks pretty good.
And the added bonus for the post-Theo Epstein new management style is that the Red Sox did not have to go out and spend big money on a C.J. Wilson or re-signing Jonathan Papelbon. Bard, Aceves, Bailey, and Melancon all made roughly half-a-million dollars last year. Some of those pitchers will get a small bump up in arbitration, but a cool million each for a quality no.4 and no. 5 starter, plus a reliable eighth-inning set-up guy and a premier closer is outstanding value.
Andrew Bailey was named Rookie of the Year in 2009 when he quickly emerged as the A’s closer early in the season. He notched 26 saves while posting an impressive 91 strikeouts in 83.1 innings (only giving up 49 hits!) and a 1.84 ERA. It was a nice rebound for a pitcher who underwent Tommy John surgery while in college four years earlier.
In 2010, the injury bug bit Bailey for the first time as a major leaguer. After being named to his second straight All-Star Game having earned 18 saves in the first half of the season, Bailey hit the DL and missed a month with a back strain. He would be shut down for good in mid-September.
In 2011, Bailey suffered what appeared to be a serious arm injury in spring training when he hopped off the mound grasping his elbow following a pitch. Fortunately, the injury was only considered elbow inflammation combined with a forearm strain. Bailey would make his first appearance on May 29 and would remain healthy for the remainder of the season, recording 24 saves.
Bailey features a mid-90’s short-arm, straight fastball. He has outstanding control for a power pitcher, walking only 49 batters in 174 career innings pitched. He is an imposing figure on the mound, standing at 6-foot-3 and over 240 pounds. He reminds me a lot of former Angels’ closer Troy Percival, except with better control, in terms of stature, delivery, and repetoire.
“Andrew is a proven, top quality closer in the American League,” new Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said.
The only question is health, but Bailey seems encouraged. “This is my first healthy offseason since I’ve been in the big leagues,” Bailey said. “It’s the first time I’ve been not having to rehab anything until the middle of December.”
That could be viewed as both good and bad. It’s good that he feels he’s healthy, but it’s worrisome that he gets injured that often.
Even still, it’s a great deal for Cherington and the Red Sox. I was worried the Sox were even floating the idea that they were comfortable with Melancon closing going into the 2012 season. To me, coming from Houston, Melancon has Dan Wheeler written all over him. He could be a mediocre closer, but a much better setup man.
I have no worries about Bailey as a closer. He will get the job done here in Boston. Boston fans will love him. And the Red Sox didn’t have to give up much. Josh Reddick is a nice player, but there are hundreds of Reddicks out there. The other two minor leaguers weren’t considered top prospects.
So the Red Sox got a cheap top-notch closer entering the prime of his career as opposed to having to spend big money on a Papelbon or Ryan Madson. And they didn’t have to give up much. Chalk one up for Cherington. Check back with me next September if I feel the same way.