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Sox’ Bard prefers to be starter

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 6, 2011
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DALLAS - The Red Sox did not make a move on the first day of the winter meetings. But they took a significant step in filling one of their pressing needs.

The Red Sox are warming to the idea of turning accomplished setup man Daniel Bard into a starting pitcher, a plan that gained traction when the righthander told manager Bobby Valentine yesterday that would be his preference.

Bard has long voiced that hope. But now the Sox are listening, given the holes in their rotation and the lack of palatable options on the free agent market.

Bard made it clear to Valentine he would embrace whatever role helps the team best. But the Sox seem comfortable with the idea of at least giving Bard the opportunity, knowing he could return to the bullpen if it doesn’t work out.

“We’re still talking about it,’’ general manager Ben Cherington said. “There’s always the chance that isn’t determined now, but later on or in spring training. We certainly want to give Daniel a chance to prepare for spring training in the right way, and so we’ll figure that out.’’

Bard was a starter at the University of North Carolina but flamed out as a minor league starter in 2007, posting a 7.08 earned run average. The Sox put him in the bullpen and the results have been impressive. Bard has a 2.88 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP over three seasons while averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Rangers converted Alexi Ogando from setup man to starter last season. He was 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA, throwing 169 innings. The Sox have already told reliever Alfredo Aceves to prepare himself to start next season.

Bard also would be a logical replacement for Jonathan Papelbon, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies last month. But the Sox could find a low-cost closer on the market and use Bard in the rotation.

Available closers include Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, and Francisco Cordero. The Sox also could trade for a closer. Colorado is reportedly willing to discuss Huston Street.

Another possibility would be Bobby Jenks, the former White Sox closer who appeared in only 19 games for the Red Sox last season because of injuries. He is scheduled for back surgery next week, having fully recovered from a pulmonary embolism that ended his season in July.

“Recovery from that would put him in place to be pitching in spring training,’’ Cherington said. “Doctors are saying he’s going to be ready for spring training. They’re confident it’s a relatively minor thing.’’

Given the variance inherent in relief pitchers - and because he will be pitching for a contract at the age of 31 - Jenks could return to form in 2012.

“He can be a big factor,’’ Cherington said.

The first step with all these moving pieces would be putting Bard on a throwing program that will prepare him for 150 innings instead of 75.

“I think that we have to talk about how to prepare [Bard] for spring training and that’s something we’ll need to do pretty soon,’’ Cherington said. “I don’t know that we have to have his role completely defined. Maybe we will. But I don’t think we have to. I do think it relates some to decisions we’ll make on our pitching this offseason. It’s not just Daniel, it’s other guys, too.’’

Using Bard to creatively solve a problem could be a blueprint for this offseason. Unlike last winter, when the Sox made headlines by obtaining Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Sox are now shying away from star players.

A lack of payroll flexibility is one reason. The Sox also believe they still have a roster ready to win, their September collapse aside.

“Our needs are a lot different this year than they were last year,’’ said Cherington. “We may be less likely to go out and sort of set the market this year than we were last year. The timing of things may be different. I would say, it’s less likely we’ll be involved in those top-tier guys as relative to the past.’’

One immediate concern is David Ortiz, who has until midnight tomorrow to accept the team’s offer of salary arbitration. If Ortiz accepts, that virtually guarantees him at least a one-year deal for 2012 at a raise from the $12.5 million he made last season.

The Sox will meet with Ortiz’s agent, Fern Cuza, before that deadline and could arrive at a settlement. Ortiz appears to be the lone free agent the Red Sox have an avid interest in retaining.

“We still wouldn’t rule anything out. I think it’s an important date just in the respect that, depending which way it goes, it’s going to indicate either a very good chance he’s on the team or a continued dialogue and a chance he pursues other options,’’ Cherington said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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