By Tony Massarotti, Globe Columnist
Theo Epstein left behind a great deal of good when he cut ties with the Red Sox, but Bobby Jenks now remains as one of his biggest blunders. For $12 million over two years, the Red Sox have gotten nothing from Jenks. And the ramifications of the signing are still being felt.
In truth, this has nothing to do with Jenks being arrested last week for allegedly driving under the influence, regardless of whether he passed the breathalyzer. (Let the record show that at least once during his career, Jenks actually put up zeroes.) In 19 games for the Red Sox last season, Jenks posted a 6.32 ERA. In 15.2 innings, he allowed 22 hits and 15 walks. Opponents batted .328 against him with an .870 OPS, all while Jenks shuttled to and from the disabled list with a body far more suited for, say, logging.
And know what the really sad part is? Because Jenks hasn’t been here very long - and because he never made any real contribution whatsoever - he sneaks by relatively free of scorn and criticism. Josh Beckett, for example, has taken far more abuse than Jenks has, and Beckett is merely at the top of a very long list. But what is there really good to say about Jenks, whose stint with the Red Sox has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster and who clearly doesn’t take his career seriously?
* The alternative. Like many in baseball, the Red Sox under Epstein argued that the performance of relievers is difficult to forecast, which is why the Sox have refrained from multiyear deals for relievers. As such, the Sox stopped short on someone like left-hander Scott Downs, who was a free agent at the same time Jenks was and who would have filled an enormous hole in the Boston bullpen.
Downs ended up getting three years and $15 million from the Los Angeles Angels, for whom he posted a 1.34 ERA in 60 appearances last year; lefties hit .179 against him while righties batted .214. Yes, Downs turned 36 earlier this month, but the Angels already have gotten far more out of Downs than the Red Sox will get out of Jenks.
Here’s the point: the Red Sox were willing to give $6 million a year to someone like Jenks, whose performance and body deteriorated in Chicago, while balking at $5 million per year for a lefty who takes far better care of himself, as if using some mathematical formula for risk analysis instead of considering the actual pitchers involved.
Maybe Downs will blow out his elbow or shoulder tomorrow. He still would have been a better signing than Jenks. And if Downs were in the bullpen now, the Red Sox may not be scrambling to find at least one healthy and effective left-handed reliever whom they could employ in the bullpen.
* The theory. In signing Jenks, the Red Sox were clearly considering the long term as much as the short. The obvious idea was for Jenks to serve as a set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon for one season - assuming the Sox didn’t trade Papelbon, which they tried to - and then have him take over as a closer. Instead, Jenks failed miserably and couldn’t stay healthy - what a shock - while the Red Sox pitching staff crumbled at the end of the 2011 season.
With regard to September, Jenks had a big hand in the collapse. Had he been able to stay healthy during the year, Daniel Bard might not have pitched in 70 games and amassed a whopping nine losses, including four in September. Instead of being stuck in the bullpen while Kyle Weiland was making starts in a pennant race - much to the chagrin of people like David Ortiz - Alfredo Aceves might have been starting games and fortifying a rotation that was in complete disrepair.
If that weren’t enough, the ripples carried into the offseason. Papelbon obviously was gone regardless of Jenks’ presence, but Jenks’ problems meant that the Sox had to go out and rebuild their bullpen. Trades were made for both Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey, neither of whom might be here if Jenks had been able to come to Boston and “resurrect” his career at the age of 30.
* The money. On a team with a payroll approaching $185-$190 million, an annual salary of $6 million might not seem like much, particularly in comparison to, say, John Lackey ($16.5 million) and Carl Crawford ($20.3 million). But at least those guys made some contribution. Even J.D. Drew gave the Red Sox something during his time here. But Jenks’ $6 million might as well have been kindling, and the amount should not be trivialized.
Here’s why: Just prior to the start of spring training, the Red Sox traded away Marco Scutaro to save anywhere from $4-$6 million, depending on how you do the math. (If Scutaro were here, Mike Aviles or Nick Punto would not be, etc.) And if the Sox still elected to trade Scutaro, they could have used his money (or Jenks’) now on a starting pitcher instead of having to pinch pennies with their eye on the trading deadline.
So you know what the Sox opted to do instead this winter? They chose to make Bard a starter, which may or may not take, in part because it was a cost-efficient option. That has subsequently created so many spring questions in the bullpen that there is already speculation of Bard going back - before the Sox even play a real game.
Obviously, the Red Sox weren’t going to gain on Jenks on both ends. If they had signed Downs, for example, they still would have had payroll issues. (Or so they say.) If Jenks had pitched well, they could have more easily transferred Bard to the rotation and kept the trading chips from either the Melancon or Bailey deals. But as it has turned out, the Sox have gotten absolutely nothing from Jenks, the rotund pitcher becoming exactly what he looks like on the mound.
A big zero.
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