Last night, for the first time all year, the Red Sox bullpen looked like it was functional. In a tie game, with no one out and a runner on third, a guy came in from the bullpen and put out the fire, then handed off to the closer in the ninth. The fireman: Daniel Bard.
Bard got the win last night. He only threw two-thirds of an inning to do it, but it came at a time when getting any outs in the late innings has been a herculean task for Red Sox relievers. In taking the ball when he did and dousing the flames, Bard restored normalcy. For now.
The problem: Daniel Bard is supposed to be starting. And, at least for now, he is still a starter. This is one of those deals, the Red Sox say, where a back of the rotation starter with early season offdays gets skipped and slotted into the bullpen. He’s scheduled to make his next start on Friday.
But those of us who loathe seeing promising young pitchers moved to the bullpen can be forgiven if this makes us uneasy, can’t we? Managers — especially managers who have witnessed recent bullpen implosions — tend to value relievers a lot more than they probably should and get comfortable having a young fireballer throwing an inning here or there instead of six or seven every fifth day.
When I see Daniel Bard do what he did last night, I see Ron Washington delaying Neftali Feliz’s addition to the rotation for a year. I see Dusty Baker refusing to give Aroldis Chapman a chance to start. I see Bobby Valentine, sitting in his office, realizing that the bullpen is the biggest problem on this Red Sox team at the moment and thinking that Bard can start some other time.
Irrational? Maybe. Managers are paid to win games first. It’s the GM’s job to think long term about a player’s role. And, like I said, there is nothing the Red Sox have said or done yet that suggests that Operation Daniel Bard: Starting Pitcher is going to be cancelled or delayed. It’s a little swingman time early in the season at a time when the pen needs some help. Nothing more.
Tell me it’s nothing more, OK?
New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.
Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.
The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.
It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.
Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.
The rebuilding Braves have already been active on the trade market and they might not be done, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that right-hander Shelby Miller has been a very popular name. In fact, around 20 teams have checked in.
Nothing is considered close and the Braves have set a very high asking price, mostly centered around offense. They asked for right-hander Luis Severino in talks with the Yankees and would expect outfielder Marcell Ozuna among other pieces from the Marlins. The Diamondbacks and Giants are among the other interested clubs.
Miller is under team control through 2018, so there’s not necessarily a sense of urgency to move him, but anything is possible with the way the Braves are doing things right now. The 25-year-old is coming off a year where he went 6-17, but that was about really rotten luck more than anything else, as he had a fine 3.02 ERA and 171/73 K/BB ratio over 205 1/3 innings. The Braves gave him the worst run support of any starter in the majors.
Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.
While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.
Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.