Who will close next season in Oakland?

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The A’s dealt closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox on Wednesday evening as part of a five-player swap. The trade has all sorts of implications, many of which we’ll analyze over the next few months leading into the start of spring training. But let’s start simple, with a look at the back end of the Oakland bullpen.

A’s assistant GM David Forst told Jane Lee of MLB.com soon after the Bailey trade was officially announced that there are three primary candidates for the club’s opening at closer: Grant Balfour, Fautino De Los Santos and Joey Devine. They’ll duke it out in camp until a winner emerges.

Balfour, a native of Australia, has registered a 2.38 ERA since the start of the 2010 season and boasts a cool 9.9 career K/9. He seems like the probable front-runner for the ninth-inning job, given that he’d make for the most logical trade chip come July. The A’s are trying to get younger — trying to build a roster that will be competitive by the time they move into a new ballpark. Balfour is 33 years old and is owed $4 million in 2012.

De Los Santos has a sizzling fastball that averaged just under 96 mph this past year, but he’s only 25 years old and has just one year of major league service under his belt. The A’s can build around him. Devine also throws hard, but he’s amassed only 23 innings since the end of the 2008 campaign due to elbow problems.

If De Los Santos proves ready this spring or if Devine builds trust through good health, perhaps one of those two will get the nod. But padding Balfour’s trade value with a decent saves total might be the best route.

The Red Sox start is ridiculous

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The red-hot Red Sox completed a sweep of the previously red-hot Angels last night, outscoring them 27-3 in their three-game series. Last night’s game was, relatively speaking, a close one, with the Sox winning “only” by six runs. They did manage to strike out Shohei Ohtani three times, though, so some style points help make up for the “squeaker.” Also worth noting that they held Mike Trout of all people to a 3-for-11 line in their three-game series. He did not score a single time and drove in no runs.

That series win puts the Sox at 16-2 on the year. They dropped their Opening Day game to the Rays, but then won their next six games against Tampa Bay, which I’d say makes up for it. In between those two series they swept a two-game series from the Marlins and afterwards they took two of three from the Yankees and three in a row from the Orioles. The only thing that even threatened to slow this juggernaut down is the weather, resulting in a postponement of Monday morning’s Patriot’s Day game. Somewhere in here we should notice that they’re doing this with their starting shortstop and starting second baseman on the disabled list.

As we’ve noted many times, their 16-2 record is the best start in the Red Sox’ 118-year history. It’s also the best start for any team since the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers began 17-1 (let us just forget, for the time being, that those Brewers lost 18 of 20 in May of that year). They are the fourth team since 1961 to win 16 of its first 18 games.

The Sox aren’t simply getting lucky here. They’ve scored 116 runs and have allowed only 50, which is a Pythagorean record of 15-3. They lead all of baseball in offense, scoring 6.44 runs a game, leading individually in average, on-base percentage and slugging. They are only three one hundredths of a run behind the Astros from leading all of baseball in pitching, allowing only 2.78 runs a game. They’re winning all of these games because, in the early going, they’ve simply been that dang much better than everyone they’ve played.

No, the Sox are not going to go 144-18, as they are currently on pace to do. Yes, they are going to find a lot more trouble in their schedule once they play the Orioles, Rays and Marlins less, play a healthier Yankees team more and face off against the Astros, the Blue Jays, the Indians, the Twins and some tougher interleague opponents. This is baseball, obviously, and no one makes it through a season without rough patches, long, short and numerous.

Still: this has been one whale of a start for Boston. Those wins are in the bank. It’s been quite the thing to see.