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Sox add Jenks to the mix

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 17, 2010

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The Red Sox firmly believe relief pitchers are not worth a contract of longer than two years. History shows such deals usually come to be regretted.

General manager Theo Epstein paid the steep price for his convictions yesterday when striking a deal with righthander Bobby Jenks. The contract will be for only two seasons, but it came at a cost of $12 million.

Major league sources told the Globe that Jenks would be in Boston tomorrow for a physical.

Joaquin Benoit (Tigers), Jesse Crain (White Sox), Scott Downs (Angels), and Matt Guerrier (Dodgers) received three-year contracts this offseason. But at $6 million, Jenks has the highest average annual value of the group. Performance bonuses could increase the value of the deal.

The Yankees and Rays also showed interest in Jenks.

The deal opens several possibilities for the Red Sox, including the flexibility to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon if an attractive offer comes along.

Sources indicated the Red Sox plan to keep Papelbon as their closer, with Jenks joining Daniel Bard in setup roles. That trio should be formidable, and help the Sox recover from having one of the worst bullpens in the American League last season.

But Jenks, who turns 30 March 14, had 173 saves during his six seasons with the White Sox, and twice made the All-Star team. The Red Sox could very easily make him their closer, with Bard staying in place as the primary setup man.

If nothing else, the deal could make it easier for the Red Sox to let Papelbon walk when he becomes a free agent after next season, knowing Bard and Jenks are under contract. Papelbon is in his final year of arbitration and could make up to $12 million, despite coming off the worst season of his career.

Jenks had a 4.44 earned run average last season, the highest since he broke into the majors in 2005. But a closer look at the statistics reveals that may have been a product of bad luck.

Jenks averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, the best rate of his career over a full season. He also had the second-best ground ball rate (58.3 percent) of his career and maintained his control, issuing only 18 walks over 52 2/3 innings. Jenks allowed three home runs and converted 27 of his 31 save chances.

According to the PitchFx data compiled by the Fangraphs.com, Jenks averaged 94.9 miles per hour on his fastball, slightly better than in 2009. His slider also maintained its velocity. But opponents had a batting average of .354 on balls in play, which helped to elevate Jenks’s ERA.

The 280-pound Jenks missed the final 27 games of the season with tendinitis in his right forearm. He battled other nagging injuries during the season and struggled with his conditioning.

“I thought he used his changeup a little too much at times. But his stuff was still there,’’ an American League scout said. “If he’s healthy, he’s still a closer in my book.’’

Jenks made $7.5 million last season and would have received a raise, leading the White Sox to nontender him. As such, signing Jenks will not cost the Red Sox any draft pick compensation.

Jenks has a 1.06 ERA with a 0.756 WHIP in 17 career innings against the Yankees. As a rookie in 2005, he allowed two earned runs over eight innings in the postseason and struck out eight as the White Sox won the World Series.

The White Sox swept the Red Sox in the Division Series that year, with Jenks retiring Tony Graffanino, Johnny Damon, and Edgar Renteria in the ninth inning of Game 3 at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox made a flurry of other bullpen moves yesterday, finalizing a deal with righthander Matt Albers and signing lefthanders Andrew Miller and Rich Hill to minor league deals. They also signed lefthanders Randy Williams and Lenny DiNardo, and righthanders Clevelan Santeliz and Ryan Harvey.

The only lefthanded reliever on the 40-man roster is Felix Doubront, a 23-year-old who appeared in 12 games last season. The Red Sox could look to add a more experienced lefty.

Free agent lefties still on the market include Joe Beimel, Pedro Feliciano, Ron Mahay, Arthur Rhodes, and Hideki Okajima.

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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