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Case is far from closed in bullpen

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 7, 2011
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DALLAS - The White Sox tried to gauge the Red Sox’ interest in right fielder Carlos Quentin, which for the moment is lukewarm, but during those discussions, Sergio Santos’s name never came up.

Red Sox evaluators love Santos’s stuff, and he would be precisely the type of young closer - under contractual control for several years - that they would love to have. But the White Sox traded him yesterday to the Blue Jays for hard-throwing righthanded starter Nestor Molina.

If the Red Sox indeed make Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves starters - although it’s much too premature to take that to the bank - they will need to do a lot of work to fill out the bullpen, including closer.

In fact, there seem to be differing views on whether the Sox should move Bard from setup man to starter and on whether they should promote him to closer.

One team source indicated that both Bard and Aceves heading to the rotation was “doubtful,’’ and another said the team already has a closer - Bard.

Bard has expressed an interest in being a starter, according to new manager Bobby Valentine, and if a player is not all-in in terms of wanting to be a closer, he may lack the confidence needed to be effective. Bard may be doubting himself after a rocky last month of the season, but the Sox are at least intrigued by what his big-time arm could mean to the starting rotation.

General manager Ben Cherington described the offseason as a three-month process, and said teams are doing their due diligence on acquisitions more than ever. The Sox are expected to find out that David Ortiz has accepted arbitration by tonight’s midnight deadline, almost ensuring that he will remain with the team on a one-year deal that could be close to $14 million.

ESPNBoston reported that Ortiz had been offered a two-year, $18 million deal by the Red Sox, one he would likely decline, given that the average annual salary would be $3 million less than what he earned in 2011.

Cherington has said this offseason is more about repairing what is broken with the current personnel than adding a lot of new parts. The Sox will spend their money on pitching and a right fielder. And the caliber of right fielder they go after will depend on whether Ortiz returns. If he does, the Sox don’t expect to go after a high-priced player such as Michael Cuddyer, who has a three-year, $25 million offer from the Twins.

The Sox are also discussing Carlos Beltran, but they likely would not want to commit to more than a two-year deal for the switch-hitting outfielder.

The pitching options are intriguing.

On the one hand, the Sox know they have either two very good starters or relievers in Aceves and Bard.

If they split the difference and put Bard in the rotation, nothing says Aceves can’t be a closer. He certainly has the stuff and the stamina.

The Red Sox already have discussed a deal with the A’s for Andrew Bailey, but right now the price appears high, with Oakland seeking prospects such as third baseman Will Middlebrooks that Boston is hesitant to deal.

The Red Sox could sign free agent closer Ryan Madson, a Scott Boras client who is looking for a four-year deal. There are other options such as Frankie Rodriguez, Francisco Cordero, Brad Lidge, etc.

The Red Sox also have begun to play up the option of turning to Bobby Jenks, who soon will have minor back surgery after recovering from a blood clot, though he should be ready to contribute by spring training.

The Red Sox could pull off a move of both Aceves and Bard to the rotation if they make the right choices in the pen.

They took a big hit when they lost their sure-thing closer in Jonathan Papelbon. But teams have recovered from such hits to piece together sufficient bullpens, such as the Rays last season.

Of course, there are no guarantees on how effective Bard or Aceves would be as starters.

Bard has an explosive fastball and a good curveball. He would have to develop a better changeup. Any time these conversions take place, they’re filled with obstacles, such as when Papelbon experimented as a starter in spring training of 2007. After a few weeks, manager Terry Francona announced that Papelbon was going back to being a closer.

Aceves seems to have the stuff to make it work. His velocity amazingly got better as last season progressed, his pitches at times hitting 95 on the radar gun. Francona always felt that Aceves, because of his durability, was too valuable to move out of the bullpen, and that seemed the right call for the 2011 Sox.

The Sox also would like to reward Aceves for being available so much last season, pitching even on days when maybe he shouldn’t have. In the end, though, he still may be more valuable in the bullpen even though he’s been told to prepare as a starter.

The market for starters is filled with uncertainty. The feeling of a lot of teams is that C.J. Wilson is too expensive, though the Angels have dived right into that sweepstakes.

Mark Buehrle has been the most popular free agent at the winter meetings, drawing attention from more than 10 teams, but his price tag may also get into the three-year, $39 million range before all is said and done. Texas recently joined that parade.

That leaves starters such as Edwin Jackson, who has a great arm but is wild, and veteran Roy Oswalt, who would appear to be a good two-year signing for some team.

There are also starters who could be available in trade, such as Cubs righty Matt Garza, who would require a boatload of prospects in return, or the White Sox’ John Danks and/or Gavin Floyd. But, again, how many front-line prospects would a team be willing to give up for them?

The Red Sox also know that Daisuke Matsuzaka could be back in the mix by midseason, and that Junichi Tazawa and Alex Wilson are youngsters who could force their way into the rotation. And there’s always Tim Wakefield, waiting in the wings for one more season.

But the deployment of Bard and Aceves is the biggest thing Cherington needs to decide on as the offseason unfolds.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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