Dan Wheeler graduated from Pilgrim High in Warwick, R.I. and still has his entire family there. So you can guess that signing on with the Red Sox yesterday was kind of special.
“Over the years deep down there has always been a part of me that wanted to play for them,” Wheeler said. “They were my team growing up and you just never know in this game how things are going to turn out. But this one turned out very well.”
Wheeler passed his physical and agreed to a one-year deal worth $3 million that includes a vesting option for 2012 if he makes 65 appearances. If he gets up to 75 games he’ll earn another $250,000.
Wheeler will likely be Boston’s top middle reliever who will likely be used ahead of the seventh-inning Bobby Jenks, but could be used later depending upon the situation. Tampa Bay had hoped to keep Wheeler.
‘We had some talks (with Tampa Bay) but in the end I felt this was the best situation for me,” Wheeler said. “I’m very impressed with all the moves we’ve been able to make and it’s a team that looks to be very solid and exciting and just to be a part of that is exciting for me.
“I loved my years in Tampa Bay. We had a fun, talented team. We had a great year last year and really enjoyed every minute of it. But I’m a Red Sox now.”
Wheeler found it amusing that he would be teammates with Carl Crawford again.
“The Red Sox are in for a special treat,” Wheeler said. “This is a special player. I know Red Sox fans have seen him a lot over the years but when you watch him day-in and day-out you’re going to see things that will amaze you. For me as a pitcher, I’m telling you, it’s great to see him out there in left field. He’s a highlight film on just about every play.”
Wheeler, 33, has also pitched for the Astros and New York Mets in his 11-year career but was drafted in the 34th round by Tampa Bay. He joins a new cast that includes Jenks, who will undergo a physical at Massachusetts General Hospital on Monday after he agreed to a two-year deal worth $12 million. Jonathan Papelbon is still slated to be the closer with Daniel Bard in the eighth inning and Jenks used mostly in the seventh but also in the eighth when Bard needs a day off. The Red Sox had also signed righthander Matt Albers and also have Tim Wakefield in the bullpen.
If the team is unsuccessful is signing a lefty reliever don’t be surprised to see youngster Felix Doubront in that role, but the Red Sox would rather start Doubront at Triple A and continue his development as a starting pitcher. The Sox may also lean on Rich Hill, who has become effective vs, lefties with his great curveball and the Sox may try Andrew Miller in the role if they can harnass his command.
The Red Sox have made an offer to Brian Fuentes and have also explored rehab candidate Ron Mahay.
Wheeler has had very good WHIP’s the last three seasons. That’s walks and hits per inning. Last season Wheeler’s WHIP was 1.075 and in the two previous years 0.995 and 0.87, both of which are outstanding.
“He’s a strike-thrower,” said one National League scout. “He can throw five different pitches. His split was very effective against lefthanded hitters last year and he can throw to righthanders effectively. He’s got a natural cutter. He can get himself in trouble if he’s up in the zone, but he’s not afraid to pound hitters inside. He’s a natural leader, who really knows that division. Battle tested. I’m sure he’ll be a popular kid on that team and in that bullpen.”
Wheeler made 64 appearances for the Rays last season and has always been a reliable member of Joe Maddon’s staff.