The season doesn’t start until April 1, so plenty can happen to change this. But here is what the Red Sox bullpen looks like at the moment.
Closer: RHP Jonathan Papelbon
Set-up men: RHP Daniel Bard, RHP Bobby Jenks
Middle relief: RHP Dan Wheeler
Analysis: Barring injury, these guys make the team. Papelbon is coming off his worst season but will be a free agent following the season, which should provide plenty of motivation. Bard and Jenks have the stuff to be effective against lefties and know they’re competing to see who becomes the closer in 2012. Wheeler’s versatility will come in handy, as will his experience in the AL East.
RHP Tim Wakefield, RHP Scott Atchison, RHP Matt Albers
Analysis: The bullpen will have seven arms, so it stands to reason the Sox may only be able to keep only one or two of these pitchers. Wakefield is due $2 million in 2011, Atchison $454,000, and Albers $875,000. Wakefield has value in that he can start when needed and pick up 2-3 innings in lopsided games. Over the course of the season, that becomes important. Atchison and Albers may be fighting for one spot.
40-MAN ROSTER PLAYERS
RHP Michael Bowden, RHP Robert Coello, LHP Felix Doubront, RHP Matt Fox, RHP Junichi Tazawa.
Analysis: Of this group, only Doubront stands a good chance of making the team as of today. The Sox will bring him to camp as a starter with the idea of sliding him into the bullpen once the season starts. His aggressive fastball makes him capable of being a one-batter specialist while his experience would enable him to go 1-2 innings when needed. Bowden, Coello, and Fox were on the team last season, patching up holes. They need to impress to stay on the 40-man roster.
Bowden was converted to the bullpen after failing to catch on as a starter. For what it’s worth, Bowden is pitching in Venezuela. His line so far through seven appearances: 6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 6 BB, 4 K.
Tazawa is recovering from elbow surgery and won’t be on the mound until later in the season. But it’s possible he could be ready to contribute at some point in the summer.
VETERANS ON MINOR LEAGUE CONTRACTS
LHP Rich Hill, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Clevelan Santeliz, LHP Randy Williams.
Analysis: Hill or Miller could make the team if the Sox take only one from the Wakefield-Albers-Atchison group. Terry Francona, like any manager, could love to have two lefties in his bullpen. Hill has dropped his arm angle down a bit as he tries to resurrect his career as a reliever and still has that good curveball. Miller needs a lot of work mechanically and may start the season in the minors. Santeliz and Williams are White Sox refugees.
RHP Stephen Fife, RHP Eammon Portice, RHP Jason Rice, RHP Kyle Weiland, RHP Alex Wilson.
Analysis: The Red Sox, to be frank, do not have many pitching prospects banging on the door outside of Doubront. Their betters arms will start next season in A ball. Of this group, only Portice and Rice were used as relievers last season. But nearly all major league relievers were once starters in the minor leagues.
It’s not certain, by the way, whether any of these players will be invited to major league camp.
Final analysis: It is always best to cast a wide net when building a bullpen and the Sox have done that. There will be at least 16 relievers in camp competing for seven spots and four of those positions — at least — are taken. You can argue that Wakefield and Doubront should have spots, making it 10 players vying for one job.
If there is a weakness, it’s that the Red Sox do not have a traditional lefty specialist. There are still a few floating around. The best of them include:
Fuentes likely would cost too much. AL East hitters would line up to take swings against Rhodes and Romero, while Reyes was actually much better against righthanders last season.
It would not be a surprise if the Red Sox did some January bottom-feeding and picked up a lefty for short money.
The bottom line is the Sox have the parts to put together a good group. Once Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and Hideki Okajima flamed out last season, it was a mess, and that mess has been cleaned up.