Spot #1: Closer
Current Pitcher: Alfredo Aceves
Potential Replacements: Franklin Morales, Daniel Bard, Alex Wilson, Vicente Padilla
Comments: It is quickly becoming apparent that Fettuccine Aceves does not really have the stuff to be a reliable closer. On Wednesday night, it looked as though he had no idea where the ball was going when it left his hand. Salty had to dive several feet in either direction several times just to catch the ball. He hit another batter, surrendering another precious base runner in a one-run save situation. I have been an advocate of waiting it out, giving him a full shot at keeping the job, and seeing where we’re at in May. It is becoming apparent that he has changed his approach in the closer’s role to try to increase his velocity, and he has sacrificed his control. Also, his mechanics are atrocious. I think there is now about enough of a body of work that we can say he is not going to succeed in this role long-term. So what do the Sox do? I am already on record that I want to keep Bard in the rotation. I have suggested in the past that Morales be given a shot at the job, but the way he has pitched recently, it doesn’t look like he would be an upgrade. The best solution left in the system is to groom Alex Wilson to be a closer, call him up in mid-May as soon as he is ready, and if Fettuccine doesn’t have his mechanics figured out by then, plug the rookie in and hope he has a Papelbon-like impact right away, at least until Bailey comes back from the DL mid-season. Wilson has one of the best fastballs in the Sox system (excepting Bard), and a plus slider, which translates to potential success in a closing role. If he can show command and comfort out of the pen in AAA, I’d like to call him up and insert him into the closer’s role. However, this probably won’t happen until mid-May at the earliest, if at all, so for now the job still belongs to Fettuccine.
Spots #2 and #3: Setup Men
Current Pitchers: Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla
Potential Replacements: Mark Melancon, Matt Albers, Junichi Tazawa, Alex Wilson
Comments: Morales and Padilla have had mixed results thus far on the young season. At times, they have looked like they can be lights-out setup men. Other times, they have struggled to record outs. One option would be to bring Wilson up once he gets his feet wet in the bullpen at Pawtucket to take over the right-handed primary setup role from Padilla, moving Padilla to more of a long-relief role. It is much more likely that the Sox will start Wilson in a less pressure-packed role to see how he responds that it is that they would insert him right into the closer’s role. However, a few more poor outings from Aceves that costs the team wins might force their hand to try something new. So I would like to see Morales and Wilson in the setup role as soon as Wilson is ready, moving Padilla to the long relief role.
Spot #4: Left-Handed Specialist
Current Pitcher: Justin Thomas
Potential Replacement: Rich Hill, Andrew Miller
Comments: Of all of the nightmarish results of the Sox bullpen this season, perhaps the most ghastly has been the performance of Justin Thomas. He just flat out does not belong in the major leagues. He is just as likely to injure somebody as he is to get them out, as he showed on Wednesday night. Opponents are hitting .476 batting/.560 on-base/.619 slugging against Thomas. He needs to be the first to pack his bags and leave, and yesterday wouldn’t be fast enough. Rich Hill is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and has been very effective at AAA (15.0 K/9, 5.0 K/BB). As soon as he is deemed ready, I expect him to be called up to replace Thomas.
Spots #5 and #6: Middle Relief
Current Pitchers: Matt Albers and Scott Atchison
Potential Replacements: Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon, Andrew Miller, Alex Wilson
Comments: Albers and Atchison struggle to get major league hitters out. Albers especially has been dicey. He did force a clutch ground ball for a double play to preserve the one-run lead on Wednesday night, but his stuff looks flat and hittable. Atchison has actually been one of the best pitchers out of the bullpen all season long, even drawing praise from Bobby V recently in a Boston Globe article. But he too has average stuff that is best suited to a mop-up role, or frankly, pitching in AAA. Junichi Tazawa was called up to replace Melancon in the Boston bullpen, and so far he has yet to give up a run or a walk in three appearances. It is not clear what is role is on this team, but he has pitched well since being moved to the bullpen, both in AAA to start the year and since being called up. I think he should be moved up to appearing in closer games in tighter situations. We could have a right-handed Hideki Okajima on our hands here, which wouldn’t be bad at all. At some point, everyone associated with this team wants Mark Melancon to be a solid pitcher out of this bullpen. He has had success at Pawtucket since being sent down last week. He was historically bad to start the season in the majors (49.50 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 5 HR allowed, 6 outs recorded anyone?) but his past numbers in the major league suggest that he will figure it out enough to at least be a middle relief option for this team.
Spot #7: Long Relief/Mop-Up/Spot Starter
Current Pitcher: Junichi Tazawa
Potential Replacements: Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa
Comments: The recommendations above leave Padilla without a role in the bullpen. He has never really had a late-inning role in his career, with the exception of some closing for the Dodgers, with mixed success. He has the experience as a starter to be successful in the long relief/mop up/spot start role at the back of the bullpen.
So in the opinion of this Maineiac, I would like to see the Red Sox bullpen constructed like this, once Wilson is ready to come up to the big leagues, which will hopefully within a week or two.
Closer – Alfredo Aceves (unless he continues to struggle, then I say give Wilson a shot)
Setup – Franklin Morales, Alex Wilson
Lefty – Rich Hill
Middle Relief – Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon
Long Relief – Vicente Padilla
Remain in AAA for now: Aaron Cook (if he doesn’t opt out, if he does oh well), Andrew Miller
Send down to AAA or release: Justin Thomas, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison