Baseball Notes

Bullpen setup faced by Sox isn’t without precedent

Next closer?
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 13, 2010

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The back end of the Red Sox bullpen couldn’t be better right now with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.

But how long can you keep Bard, a setup man with 100-mile-per-hour heat, wondering about his future as a major league closer? Years ago, the Yankees made the decision to allow John Wetteland to sign as a free agent with Texas, making room for Mariano Rivera to become New York’s closer.

Will the Sox do something similar this offseason — try to get as much as they can for Papelbon, who is still one of the best closers in the game, and try to find a setup man to slip into Bard’s slot?

It’s a nice decision to have.

The Sox could string things along for another season with Bard and Papelbon, and even re-sign Papelbon. After all, proven arms like these are very difficult to find. But would that be fair to Bard, who is showing that he’s ready to be a major league closer?

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Reds had such issues, first with John Franco being the closer with young Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton behind him. Franco then was traded to the Mets in a package for Randy Myers. Myers became the closer ahead of Charlton and Dibble, though Dibble sneaked in 11 saves one season. They were the Nasty Boys, who gained fame during the 1990 postseason.

By ’91, Dibble was the main closer over Myers and Charlton, with 124 strikeouts over 82 1/3 innings, and in ’92, Dibble and Charlton split the closer role, with Charlton collecting 26 saves and Dibble 25.

When Brad Lidge was in Houston, he was a setup man to Billy Wagner, then Octavio Dotel.

“I know we used Dotel as a chip in the [three-team] Carlos Beltran deal [in 2004] and that’s when I got my shot,’’ recalled Lidge. “I always wanted to be the closer, but it wasn’t something I verbalized. My attitude was, if I had the eighth inning, be the best eighth-inning guy. Take care of your inning.

“We always had a cohesive bullpen when I was in Houston, so we didn’t think that way. Sometimes things happen where you get your chance.’’

Sometimes it’s finances. Teams can only afford so much.

“That true,’’ said Lidge. “Teams like we have in Philadelphia, they’ll spend what they need to have the best situation possible, but you can only say that for about six or seven teams. So that can force a trade or someone not getting re-signed. If you do the job, you’ll get your chance.’’

Could that work in Boston eventually, or in the 21st century is it impossible for a guy like Papelbon to go backward and share the role?

It’s also a somewhat unusual situation because here the incumbent closer is relatively young at 29.

“It’s the team that dictates when you’re going to be a closer, and not how you’re pitching or whether you think you should be the closer,’’ Bard said. “At some point down the road, if this team does need a closer — and we have Pap for at least one more year after this — it’s up to the front office after that.

“That’s not really my concern. I’m a setup guy and middle relief right now.’’

While Bard, who will turn 25 this month, blew a save chance in Cleveland Thursday night, his performance this season speaks for itself.

“I’m not going to be a closer until I’m a really good setup guy,’’ said Bard, who is in his second season in the role. “There’s an order to it. The reason guys like Rivera became closers is because they were really good setup guys. Rivera got Cy Young votes that year. I don’t even think he was thinking about closing back then.

“There’s nothing given to you in this game. Every time you go out, you have to earn where you are. If I continue to be good at it, maybe I’ll be rewarded with it down the road.’’

The passing of the torch, so to speak, happens a lot in baseball. It’s rare that you have a Rivera who hangs around for 15 years.

We’ve seen it on smaller and somewhat different scales around the game for many years. Trevor Hoffman gave way to Heath Bell in San Diego. Dotel also gave way to Joakim Soria in Kansas City. Eddie Guardado passed it to J.J. Putz in Seattle.

One of the longest-standing setup/closer situations was in Toronto, with Duane Ward setting up Tom Henke. Ward was the setup man for parts of five years, but during that time he was given save opportunities. Eventually, the Jays let Henke go — just a couple of days after the World Series parade in 1992.

In most cases, it’s the older guy being moved to make room for the young guy. In this case, Papelbon isn’t that old.

“That’s a great situation, because you can bring along the young guy and put him in save situations when the closer needs time off and break him in that way,’’ said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

It’s logical that as Papelbon heads into his final season before free agency — and as his paycheck soars — the Sox would at least float his name out there in the trade market.

If he leaves, the Sox would have to get another very good eighth-inning reliever ready, especially with Hideki Okajima not quite as effective as he once was. The job could fall to Manny Delcarmen or Ramon Ramirez.

As for a market for Papelbon, there are teams that could use a closer. Milwaukee, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Philadelphia could all be in the market by the offseason.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Sox handle this.


Strasburg is a hurler with complete game

Give Scott Boras credit. Players he represents have been the highest-impact draft choices the last two years. Last year it was Stephen Strasburg, this year Bryce Harper.

“It was a hard thing to say, but I said Stephen Strasburg was the best college pitcher I’ve ever seen,’’ Boras said. “It was tough coming here [to Washington] last year and not being able to talk about Stephen, because quite frankly, we undervalued Stephen. I couldn’t speak candidly, because those things are best proven.

“Right now, we’re seeing something in baseball that’s finally coming to fruition. We’ve seen a player that, prior to reporting to the major league level — and they’re really not of value to you until they perform — has changed the marquee of a franchise, changed the perception of the franchise, added TV ratings, that has added great value.’’

What Boras didn’t say is that Strasburg will have added value around baseball. Wherever he pitches, he’s bound to boost attendance (unless it’s somewhere such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc. where attendance is already maxed out). He’s expected to add thousands today in the wasteland that Cleveland’s Progressive Field has become, and he should bang out Camden Yards in his next start.

Boras understands great players and their psyches. He offered reasons why Strasburg is so good.

“Steve always had the intelligence and intellect to realize he needed to work on his secondary pitches,’’ said Boras. “I think that was a process of his desire and talking to [San Diego State coach] Tony Gwynn about what the next level was like.

“I always relate a player’s abilities to the intensity. I lived in LA and I used to watch Nolan Ryan, with the intensity to want to do things. What’s fortunate about Stephen is when you’re around a Hall of Fame player like Tony Gwynn day in and day out, this is not opinion testimony. This is fact. When you have somebody who is that extraordinary and prepared.

“The preparation, that part of it, has been communicated to him. For so many college players who are extraordinary at what they do, Stephen always wanted to be a complete pitcher. That’s why he has a chance to be really good at this, because he understood what was needed before he got here.’’


New England players can’t catch scouts’ eyes

New England players remain largely ignored by major league teams, who believe it isn’t cost-effective to devote manpower and resources to scout this area. It wasn’t until the final couple of weeks before the draft that teams like the Tigers, Yankees, and Blue Jays started watching and/or holding workouts for Zack Kapstein, a fine two-sport athlete from Tiverton, R.I.

Kapstein has speed, power, and can catch (he also led New England high school hitters with a .603 average), but it wasn’t until the 44th round that the Red Sox took him. Very few teams knew anything about him.

The feeling among scouting directors and scouts is that New England is considered a one-star area (out of five), and they have numbers to back that up. One scout brought up the name of Jason Bere, who was largely ignored and wound up going in the 36th round to the White Sox in 1990. Bere played 11 seasons in the majors, winning 12 games three times and 11 games once.

The issues, as always, are weather, number of games, and level of competition.

Scouts wait until late in the spring to see New England kids, and by that time, it’s tough to get a cross-checker to confirm what the area scout has seen. The teams that do bother with New England give a kid a quick look, then determine whether he’s worth seeing again.

One National League team won’t even consider a kid from New England, spending all of its time in Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, and California.

Obviously, there have been a number of players from New England who made the majors: Tony Conigliaro, Jerry Remy, Tom Glavine, Jeff Reardon, Greg Gagne, Steve Bedrosian, Rocco Baldelli, Jeff Bagwell, Mark Wohlers (we’re missing a hundred others). Yet teams don’t mind ignoring this region and would rather spend their time looking at the 18th-best shortstop in Oklahoma.

The New England players who do get picked tend to wind up at the bottom of the draft, and then comes the tricky player-development issue of whether these draft picks get a fair shake. Many will say no.

The draft is imperfect, for sure, but kids in New England really get shortchanged.


Apropos of nothing

1. Wonder if Mark Buehrle would give back his perfect game of last July if it meant he’d be better than 6-13, 4.78 since then; 2. Not surprised that Dustin Pedroia has played through a balky knee, sacrificing stats, so he can stay in the lineup and help the team defensively and in other ways. Jason Varitek did the same for many years; 3. Jason Heyward has joined Adrian Beltre on the All-Outfield Killer team. Both have gotten outfielders hurt with their aggressive play; 4. Prediction: Jacoby Ellsbury will be dealt in the offseason; 5. Seems to me you have to play Mike Lowell to trade him.

Updates on nine
1. Kevin Millwood, RHP, Orioles — He should become major trade bait as the deadline approaches. “I think there are a lot of teams who would want a veteran starting pitcher,’’ said agent Scott Boras. “As to what Baltimore’s plans are, that’s something I would have to sit and talk to [GM] Andy [MacPhail] about.’’

2. Randy Wolf, LHP, Brewers — The Brewers probably would love to make him available, but the way he’s pitching, who would want him? They just ate about $8 million on Jeff Suppan’s contract, and now they’re about to pull out their hair over Wolf, who signed a three-year, $29.75 million deal in the offseason. Wolf, such a stabilizing force on the Dodger staff last season, is averaging 10.2 hits, 1.7 home runs, and 4.5 walks per nine innings.

3. Dave Aardsma, RHP, Seattle — The feeling is that once Cliff Lee is dealt, everyone on the roster is vulnerable. That would leave a valuable guy like this former Sox reliever out there for the taking, perhaps for Minnesota, which is looking for a closer. The Mariners’ situation is horrible for a team that had so much promise. The feeling about manager Don Wakamatsu is almost 180 degrees different from last season. The man who brought karma to the team a year ago is now putting out clubhouse fires. Other than Ichiro and Felix Hernandez, everyone may be available. And what’s up with King Felix? A scout who saw him recently wonders if there is something physically wrong.

4. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — The Brewers have a lot of issues, one of which is their catching situation, with Gregg Zaun lost for the season after undergoing elbow surgery. George Kottaras and prospect Lucroy, who was called up from Triple A after tearing up Double A, are the backstop tandem. Lucroy should be a good fit eventually, but right now both have problems calling games, and that’s not helping a pitching staff that, well, needs help. The Brewers aren’t even sure whether they’ll try to improve the catching or whether they’ll soon be sellers and build for next season.

5. Jeff Suppan, RHP, Cardinals — The Brewers felt the former Red Sox righty needed a change of scenery. And the Cardinals, missing Brad Penny (lower back, disabled list since May 22) and Kyle Lohse (forearm, also on DL), they needed a veteran starter. Suppan had his best years in St. Louis under Dave Duncan, so he was signed pretty quickly after receiving his release. Suppan was 29-36 with a 5.08 ERA in four years in Milwaukee after going 44-26, 3.95, in three years in St. Louis.

6. Derrick Hall, CEO, Diamondbacks — The boss isn’t happy with the bang for the 80-million-buck payroll, and he’s talking about reevaluating the staff (GM Josh Byrnes, manager A.J. Hinch) and reducing payroll. The only untouchable appears to be outfielder Justin Upton. Otherwise, watch the Diamondbacks at the trading deadline. Ace Dan Haren, center fielder Chris Young, second baseman Kelly Johnson, third baseman Mark Reynolds, pitcher Edwin Jackson, and first baseman Adam LaRoche all could be nice pieces for contenders.

7. Jim Leyland, manager, Tigers — This may be his best managing job, considering he has four rookies who could get 300 at-bats. Catcher Al Avila may get more time with starter Gerald Laird hitting .154. Danny Worth will start at shortstop with Adam Everett designated for assignment. Center fielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Brennan Boesch are well on their way. According to Stats Inc., the last time the Tigers had four rookies get 300 at-bats was 1954, with Bill Tuttle, Frank House, Frank Bolling, and Al Kaline.

8. Joe Torre, manager, Dodgers — One of Torre’s greatest managing attributes is his calm demeanor, which rubs off on players. On May 8, the Dodgers were in last place; now they have overtaken the upstart Padres for first. They have gotten very good pitching, especially from the emerging Clayton Kershaw. Imagine if they could add a veteran like Roy Oswalt to anchor that rotation. The feeling among major league executives I speak to is that the Dodgers won’t pony up the prospects to do it, but they would be OK taking on the money.

9. Adam Dunn, 1B, Nationals — A free agent after this season, he is best suited to being a DH. His powerful bat and high on-base percentage suggest that he would be a perfect fit for the Sox should they part ways with David Ortiz after this season. The Nationals have the means to re-sign Dunn, but his defensive problems aren’t a fit for a team that may be emphasizing run prevention with Stephen Strasburg in the picture.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “You can’t measure success based on teams grounding into double plays. The Twins have done it the most and the Padres the least.’’ Also, “Last season, after being acquired by Cleveland at the trade deadline, Justin Masterson in 57 1/3 innings allowed 5 homers and walked 35. This season, in 68 1/3 innings, he’s allowed 5 homers and walked 35.’’ . . . John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus had a great line on the Strasburg debut last Tuesday: “The Pittsburgh Pirates are playing the role of the Washington Generals.’’ . . . Happy 88th birthday, Mel Parnell, and happy 58th to you, Ernie Whitt.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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