It appears that Red Sox skipper Terry Francona has bought himself some time before deciding on what he’ll do with his bullpen. There are four guarantees when it comes to the ‘pen, Papelbon, Bard, Jenks and Wheeler. And for the sake of argument, let’s through the 44 year old veteran Wakefield in there as well. After that, that’s where it gets dicey. You’ve got two proverbial front runners in the lefties Okajima and Reyes and then a list of possibilities. The young Matt Albers has looked strong this spring, while veterans Atchison and Aceves have the experience of the big leagues. Felix Doubront is still in recovery mode and will most likely start the year on the DL. Throw in Hill and Miller as outsiders at this point and while the bullpen tends to take shape, there are still some difficult decisions to be made over two remaining spots. Let’s look at the numbers a little closer: (all stats as of Thursday, March 24 via mlb.com)
1. Hideki Okajima – spring training this year, the Japanese southpaw has been questionable. 6 innings pitched and an ERA of 6.00, although he does have 6 strikeouts. Don’t be so quick to dissolve the memories of all that Okajima did for the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series run. He was an integral part of the bullpen that year.
2. Dennys Reyes – a solid spring to say the least. 8 innings of work with an ERA of 1.13 to go with 8 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.13. Pretty solid numbers to ensure a spot in the bullpen to start the year. If the Red Sox released him, he’s most certain to get picked up elsewhere and wouldn’t it be difficult to watch him come into Fenway and prove tough to beat.
3. Matt Albers – a young talented arm, Matt Albers has put up impressive numbers thus far during spring training. 11.1 innings of work, an ERA of 2.38, 13 strikeouts and WHIP under 1.00. Throw in the fact that he’s only 28 years old and to me he’s the front runner for one of the two spots.
4. Scott Atchison – the middle reliever has struggled somewhat this spring with an EAR of 6.48 in only 8.1 innings of work. While he was a solid presence in 2010, Tito has a few more choices this spring to ensure his bullpen won’t be the weak link of the ballclub this year.
5. Alfredo Aceves – pretty solid numbers for the Mexican native. 13.1 innings pitched, 4 strikeouts to go along with 3 base on balls, an ERA of 4.05 and a WHIP of 1.20. Possibly a nice compliment for middle relief work this season.
6. Rich Hill – another lefty who has been tough to score on this spring. Rich Hill has worked 8.2 innings without allowing an earned run. A WHIP of 0.92 and 6 strikeouts, you’d think that based on these numbers it’d be good enough to find a spot in the ‘pen. Most ball clubs he would, but with the depth the Red Sox have accumulated this off season, Rich is looking straight up hill.
7. Andrew Miller – Still only 25 years old, Andrew Miller is perhaps still a year or two away from cracking this bullpen. 7.2 innings this spring and Miller has an ERA north of 10.0 and a WHIP threatening the 2.0 mark. As I said before, he’s most likely a long shot looking in.
Now I know that spring training is only spring training and based on past performances with some of these relievers it’s difficult to outright release them. But with only two spots available Francona is going to let someone with a lot of bullpen potential walk. Based on the numbers this spring, my picks are to go with the young Matt Albers and Dennys Reyes. My reasoning? Quite simple really. Reyes is an obvious choice as he’s the lefty in the squad that you can call on to face the tough left handed bats. My choice in Albers may surprise a few. His numbers are impressive this spring but keep in mind he’s only 28. Let him sit out in the bullpen every night and learn from some of the best relievers in the game. You want to talk about mentors, how about having the likes of Jonathan Papelbon or Bobby Jenks help you along? And don’t forget about Tim Wakefield. Who better to help a younger guy than a savvy veteran who has almost two decades of Major League experience.
A complicated situation yes, but a nice problem to have.