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Spotlight on the 'pen

Posted by Gordon Edes, Globe Staff  January 24, 2007 07:55 AM

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The Sox now have nine relievers under contract after avoiding arbitration with Brendan Donnelly, who agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal yesterday. Under the terms of the contract, Donnelly is to receive an additional $25,000 for 25 games finished and $25,000 for 30 games finished.

Donnelly, who was paid $950,000 by the Angels last season, had asked for $1.65 million in arbitration. The Sox had submitted a bid of $1.115 million.

The Sox investment in the pen now stands at $15.7 million, and that doesn't include nine additional pitchers on the 40-man roster who could be competing for a spot in the bullpen mix, if you count last year's closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Lefty Jon Lester could be another, depending on how cautiously the Sox proceed after Lester responded positively to treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The others include lefties Lenny DiNardo, Javier Lopez, and Kason Gabbard, and righthanders Manny Delcarmen, Devern Hansack, Edgar Martinez, David Pauley, and Nick Debarr, the Rule 5 pickup from Tampa Bay who is a full season removed from Tommy John elbow surgery. None of the nine have enough big-league service time to qualify for salary arbitration. Gabbard and Pauley figure to be in Pawtucket's rotation while Martinez could close for the PawSox.

With the Sox having signed free-agent lefty reliever J.C. Romero and Japanese lefty Hideki Okajima, DiNardo also figures to be in the Pawtucket rotation, with Lopez left to try to beat out the two newcomers. Hansack, who threw a five-inning no-hitter in the last game of the 2006 season, has been mentioned as a darkhorse candidate for closer, while Debarr, who last season pitched in the Class A California League, must win a spot on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the D-Rays.

The highest-paid member of the Sox bullpen as presently constituted is Joel Pineiro, who started in 148 of his 185 games in the big leagues for Seattle before being signed as a free agent for $4 million this season by the Sox. Pineiro could conceivably become a candidate for the No. 5 spot in the rotation if the Sox change their minds about making Papelbon a starter.

The other Sox relievers under contract for 2007: Julian Tavarez ($3.1 million), Mike Timlin ($2.8 million), J.C. Romero $1.6 million, Brendan Donnelly ($1.4 million), Hideki Okajima (($1.2 million), Craig Hansen ($700,000), Kyle Snyder ($535,000), Craig Breslow (a split contract, $400,000 in the big leagues, $130,000 in the minors).

Timlin, Tavarez and Donnelly figure to be the top setup men, and Okajima and Romero (possibly Lopez) are the lefties. The dollars alone say Pineiro will be on the staff, possibly as the closer, or as the fifth starter. That's six positions in the ‘pen. With five starters (Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Papelbon), that would appear to leave one position open, assuming Terry Francona carries 12 pitchers. Hansack, Hansen and Delcarmen stand to be the leading contenders for that final spot. The competition should be intense.

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Outfielder Wily Mo Pena is the lone Sox arbitration case left, and that looks like some time will pass before a resolution. Pena has asked for $2.2 million; the Sox countered with $1.725 million.

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