The Red Sox have added Mark Melancon to their roster, and whether or not you are happy with what is going back the other way, that is a good thing.
You see, while it's gone a bit unnoticed thanks to the mess that is the starting rotation, the Red Sox' relief corps is somewhat wanting in its own right. Jonathan Papelbon is gone, Matt Albers fell to earth, and has anyone even confirmed whether Bobby Jenks is still alive? It wasn't a pretty picture, but it's been helped a good deal by the addition of a relatively reliable arm such as Mark Melancon's.
Does that mean the Sox can call it a day when it comes to the pen, though? Let's see what we've got...
Daniel Bard: Let's start with the guy who isn't even supposed to be in the pen come March. If Bard were to stay in the pen, it would go a long way towards completing the unit. With Melancon at set-up, and Bard as the closer (or, I suppose, vice versa), the last two innings would be about as good as any team can expect them to be. Still, though, for now it seems as though he's going to be starting if that doesn't prove disastrous in spring training.
Mark Melancon: Which leaves us with the new guy to provide the late innings. While it was not initially clear whether on not Melancon was being brought in as the closer or setup man, Tim Brown of Yahoo at least seems to think it's the latter, and Buster Olney seems to have confirmed that this morning. If this is the case, then it's a good fit--Melancon should be able to provide the same sort of bullpen contribution that Daniel Bard did last year, though he might have to re-adjust to the AL East and should be expected to have slightly worse results just based on that move.
Alfredo Aceves: Perhaps the one man Red Sox fans are pinning too much hope to, Alfredo Aceves certainly had one hell of a season in 2011, essentially picking up the ball whenever the Sox needed him most and delivering scoreless bullpen innings. That being said, however, the man's peripherals are concerning. While relief pitchers are perhaps more capable of overperforming their DIPS, and Alfredo does seem the sort who would induce a low BABIP, it's hard to really rely on a .231 mark for the ostensible seventh inning guy, and certainly not for the eighth.
Bobby Jenks: If there is a reason why the Sox could go into the season with Alfredo Aceves pegged as the #3 man in the pen, it's arguably Bobby Jenks. No, he wasn't good last year. At all. But he also wasn't healthy, and if that's something he can get together, then it's always possible the Sox can have the old Bobby Jenks back again--the one who had a 3.40 ERA and a 3.04 K/BB through the first 340 innings of his career. For a team without a lot of financial flexibility at the moment, Jenks is the "free" (already on the budget as he is) shot-in-the-dark that is the necessary substitute for a sure thing, and makes having a question mark like Aceves at a significant spot more tolerable.
Franklin Morales: Another question mark (and oh, are there ever a lot of them), Morales certainly did well for the Sox last year, but can hardly be counted on given his track record. Could he be a decent lefty option? Yes, but I'd feel a lot better if the second option was someone along the lines of Rich Hill rather than...
Felix Doubront: He has a chance to be a significant contributor...if he shows up healthy and in-shape. But even then, Felix is still riding the high of his 2010 season in Triple-A and about 25 major league innings. Having seen what Kyle Weiland brought in, and given just how many question marks there are in this pen, I would neither be surprised nor disappointed to see Doubront's name floated around in trade talks.
Matt Albers: He had half-a-season of brilliance, and then fell dramatically back to Earth. He should enter spring training assuming he's somewhere at the back of the line. Frankly, I'm not terribly enthused that they even offered him a guaranteed deal.
Scott Atchison: The safety net, and an underrated one at that. Atchison actually produced 31 high-quality innings for the Red Sox last year just one year after sort of chancing into the top middle relief role on the team. Atchison's role on the team likely relies on what happens with Alfredo Aceves, since they fill very similar roles. If Aceves is great, Atchison becomes the mop-up man. If he's not, then he'll get a well-deserved shot at Ace's curious, but important role.
As we stand now, the role of closer is being filled by Mark Melancon, but after that it's all in flux. The setup position could go to Alfredo Aceves if he performs as well as he did last year, or to Bobby Jenks if he finds his old self. Franklin Morales could be a designated seventh-inning man, or a complete train wreck. It's an odd situation for the Red Sox where more than half of their bullpen could reasonably be expected to have an ERA of anywhere between 3.00 and 5.00, but that's the case for guys like Aceves, Jenks, Atchison, Morales, and Doubront.
Do we feel comfortable with those five gambles, though? I expect at least one will turn out, but counting on two just to have an established 7-8-9 setup seems a bit too risky.
Right about now the Sox probably need to sign two more bullpen arms. They don't both need to be marquee closer-type players, but having at least one sure thing would go a long way towards securing the game after the starting pitcher has left. The other would hopefully be as consistent as possible--not necessarily consistently great, just someone who can go out there and pitch the seventh in 3-run games without risking the entire lead. In other words, not Manny Delcarmen.
It's a unit that has a lot of potential, and for all we know, the Sox could be flipping some excess talent come July to fill in other holes. In the meantime, though, they need to add some insurance in the form of reliable arms instead of gambles.