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Closing time: Where should the Red Sox turn?

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  June 19, 2013 12:25 PM

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Red Sox manager John Farrell said on Tuesday night that Andrew Bailey was his closer, even after the righthander blew his second save in three appearances. What else was he going to say right after a game?

But the Red Sox clearly demonstrated what they thought about Bailey on Dec. 26 when they traded for Joel Hanrahan. On the day they announced the trade, Farrell said that Hanrahan was his closer and that there would be no competition in spring training.

The Sox liked Bailey. But they liked him more as a set-up man.

Six months later, the only thing that has changed is that Hanrahan blew out his elbow and needed season-ending surgery. Bailey is still the same pitcher.

That is not to dismiss Bailey. When healthy, he was a very effective closer for Oakland. He also has pitched pretty well for the Red Sox this season if you take a dispassionate look at the numbers.

22.1 innings
17 H
10 BB
30 K

That's very good. However, he has allowed five home runs and the first hitter he faces is hitting .381 with a 1.244 OPS. Of the 23 batters Bailey has started out with, 10 have reached base. That's not closer material.

It's also fair to say that Bailey can't be trusted to stay healthy. There are 89 games left in the season and the odds of his staying off the disabled list are slim given his history.

Here are the closer options for the Red Sox:

1. Bailey: For now, he's probably the guy. They can work on getting him fixed mechanically and take their time finding a long-term solution. Farrell might even challenge him. Give Bailey two weeks to show he deserves the gig.

2. Junichi Tazawa: He has the stuff but has never worked as a closer in his career. Does he have the mentality for the job? That's hard to gauge.

3. Koji Uehara: He has done the job before (for Baltimore in 2010) and is pitching tremendously, too. But at 38, Uehara is demonstrably better when he gets proper rest. The Sox have tried to avoid using him on consecutive days and that doesn't fit the profile of a closer.

4. Other internal options: Craig Breslow has always handled righthanders well. He also has the unflappable personality for it. ... Alex Wilson throws strikes and isn't afraid of a challenge. But that would be asking a lot of a rookie. ... Andrew Miller has the stuff, but control issues always arise.

5. Jonathan Papelbon: The big-ticket solution. But how realistic is it? He has $33.2 million left on his deal through 2015 plus an easily obtainable $13 million option for 2016. The Phillies also won't give him away. They'll want high-end prospects in return. If the Red Sox didn't want to pay Papelbon big money back in 2011, why would they give it to him in 2013?

6. Trade TBD: Come July 31, teams out of the mix will be looking to obtain a closer or at least somebody who can close. Jesse Crain of the White Sox would be an example of a reliever who could be on the market.

7. Out of the box ideas: Sign Brian Wilson and hope he can come back from surgery. Tellingly, no team has tried that so far. ... Convert a starter in Pawtucket (Rubby De La Rosa?) and see if he can handle the job. ... Don't name a closer. Play matchups and use whoever is available that day. It would take some guts to do that, however.

Here is the good news: The Giants won the World Series last season with Sergio Romo closing. The Cardinals won in 2011 with Jason Motte, who had nine saves during the season. You don't need an Established Closer to win in the postseason.

But you do need some sort of roles established in the bullpen to win in the regular season. Relievers like knowing how and when they'll be used.

The Sox have come this far and are still in first place. They can't let this derail them.

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