I know we've been joking about it for a while, now, but this morning Larry Stone reminded me of what the Red Sox are planning to do with their bullpen, and it made me squeal with laughter all over again. I mean, honestly:
Of course, they might not, because the Sox have numerous options and Plan B's to ponder before their season opener in Kansas City on April 2. But by many accounts, Boston's preferred result is for Pineiro to seize the job and run with it.
I just thought this needed a post all its own. I mean, I understand that the Red Sox are allegedly a saber-friendly organization, and that going into the season without an established closer is like giving the whole system the finger, but how do you spend $160m on a roster without accounting for a role that many fans believe to be among the most important on the team? And then how do you go from that to declaring that your preferred option is a guy who not even six months ago was arguably the worst pitcher in the league? A team like the Royals can afford to take a stupid gamble, because if it works out, great, and if it doesn't, whatever, it's the Royals. But the Red Sox? Sure, on the off chance that Joel turns into a quality reliever the front office will be revered as a group of geniuses, but they have so, so, so much to lose here that the risk/reward is skewed insanely far to the left. They can't take a chance on Joel, watch him suck for a month or two, then say "oops" and switch him out, because nobody in New England takes April games lightly, and against the Yankees the Red Sox need to preserve all the leads they can get. It's just such a silly and unnecessary maneuver.
The Red Sox claim to have their reasons, but there's nothing there that stands out as being particularly in-depth or intangible or anything. They just like they way Joel's stuff looked out of the bullpen, and they liked the results. Of course, we all got to watch the same pitcher, and I don't think anyone here saw Joel relieve and thought "that guy's closer material." His stats as a reliever don't mean much since (A) it's a small sample, and (B) the coaches were constantly tinkering with his arm angle, but subjectively speaking, he just didn't look like anything real special. His fastball gained a little life and averaged ~91-92, and his breaking ball added some tilt to its drop, but this wasn't any better than what, say, Jon Huber brought to the table, and you don't see that guy garnering much interest anywhere (not even in Seattle, where he'll apparently have to fight for a job). Joel missed some bats, but he just looked like a decent reliever - nothing more, nothing less. Brandon Lyon was a decent reliever and he got run out of town (or the closer's role, anyway) on a rail. The Red Sox organization and fan base demand an ability that Joel can't provide, and I absolutely cannot believe that the front office thinks he has it in him. They obviously have a lot of faith in his supposed bullpen rejuvenation, but I don't get why, and if he hadn't been a promising young starter so many years back, I doubt he gets this chance.
Now, there's a lot of Spring Training to go before Opening Day, so the Red Sox will have plenty of time to sober up and figure out what they actually want to do with ninth innings this year. If Joel wins out and ends up the closer, it'll be because the coaching staff thinks he's the best option. I just can't foresee many situations where that works out in their favor. This isn't like the Matt Thornton thing a year ago, where the pitcher had the stuff but didn't have the mechanics; Joel doesn't have the stuff anymore, and there's no legal way for him to ever get it back. If he seizes the role and survives, it'll require an extraordinary amount of luck, the likes of which is difficult to happen across in that ballpark. With a middle-reliever repertoire and a delivery that leaves him vulnerable to lefties, the probable best-case scenario here is that Joel channels Bob Wickman, and any Indians fan can tell you how terrifying that can get. If Boston couldn't handle Byung-Hyun Kim, I can't see how Joel Pineiro has a prayer.
Thanks to NESN, ESPN, MLB.tv, and national broadcasts, I'll be able to watch 162 Red Sox games this year if I want to. And personally, I can't wait.