DETROIT — Earlier this evening, my colleague and Fort Myers real estate baron Nick Cafardo wrote that he believes the Red Sox should make Daniel Bard the closer now that Andrew Bailey is undergoing surgery that could well knock him out for the rest of the season.
That’s a fair point. I thought that Bard should have been made the closer last fall when Jonathan Papelbon bolted for Philadelphia. To me, it made great sense to push Bard from the eighth inning to the ninth inning. Then the Sox could have used their trade chips to obtain a No. 4 starter type.
Instead the Sox made Bard a starter and used their trade chips to obtain Bailey and Mark Melancon.
Bard worked as a starter all spring, with mixed success, and was named to the rotation based largely on his potential. The belief is that Bard will grow into the role and could develop into a very good starter.
Now that Bailey is injured, should the plan change? I don’t think so and here’s why:
• Remember Joba Chamberlain? First he was a starter, then a reliever, then a starter, then a reliever. Then he had elbow surgery and now his career seems ruined.
Bard is 26 and has only three years of experience. He was a reliever last season, then a starter in spring training. So if he becomes a closer now, will he be a starter in 2013 when Bailey comes back or slide back to set-up man? That’s asking for trouble.
• Starters are more valuable than closers. Outside of Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon and a few others, closers come and go. Billy Beane once said that every organization has closers you just need to identify them. He’s right.
Here are the closers on the playoff teams in 2011: Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Valverde, Neftali Feliz, Jason Motte, John Axford, Ryan Madson and J.J. Putz.
Rivera and Feliz are special. The Phillies thought so little of Madson they went after Papelbon. Valverde has had a good career. The others are guys who happened to fall into that role. Axford was once released by the Yankees.
If the Red Sox think Bard is that good, he can be more valuable to them starting. The biggest problem the Sox have is rotation depth, not finding somebody who can get three outs in the ninth inning.
• Mark Melancon was a perfectly capable closer for the Astros last season. Opponents hit .234 against him and he stranded 13 of the 17 runners he inherited. Melancon also has a 2.19 groundball to fly ball ratio over the last two seasons.
Few noticed because the Astros were the worst team in baseball. But Melancon had a 0.59 earned run average over the last month of the season, not allowing a run in his final 11 outings.
Or use Alfredo Aceves. A lot of good closers are a little crazy. He’s a lot crazy.
• The Sox have the offense to stay in contention. Let Melancon and Aceves handle it now and, if needed, trade for a closer in July.
It comes down to this: People who get paid to make baseball decisions sat down and decided Daniel Bard could be a good starter. If that is their true evaluation, then stick with it. A good starter is hard to find. You can find a good closer most anywhere, including on the roster.