The Red Sox had a problem hat anyteam in the league would love to have: too many relievers, not enough space to fit them all on the 25-man roster. Adding Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara to an already pretty decent group of arms seemed certain to push at least one or two viable candidates out into the cold.
Now? Not so much. While John Farrell is still holding out hope that Franklin Morales will be ready to go come April, Craig Breslow's ailing shoulder is now almost guaranteed to push him onto the disabled list at the start of the season.
Before these injuries, the safest assumption was that the following players would likely have a spot in the bullpen:
- Joel Hanrahan
- Andrew Bailey
- Koji Uehara
- Junichi Tazawa
- Craig Breslow
- Andrew Miller
- Franklin Morales
Daniel Bard still has options (however much they would have to rely on gentleman's agreements to use them) and needs to prove he's actually able to pitch again. Alfredo Aceves is a...volatile element without much track record of success and a non-guaranteed contract. Clayton Mortensen's success in 2012 had some very fluky elements to it. Thus these three seemed the most likely players to just miss the cut.
Now, however, Craig Breslow is off the list, and Franklin Morales may not be far behind him. That means there's suddenly space available. Who's likely to fill in?
Two weeks ago the answer would've been fairly simple for me: Clayton Mortensen. His year was fluky, yes, but he doesn't have the options Bard does, or the baggage Aceves does, so slotting him in is an easy 1-for-1 replacement. Now I'm not so sure.
Just to get this out of the way: left-handedness will not likely be a factor. While it's true losing Morales and Breslow would leave Miller as the only lefty in the pen, the Sox just don't have much in the way of southpaws to replace them. Chris Hernandez is the only lefty of any note in Pawtucket, and for the moment he's both a starter and seemingly unready for the big leagues based on his tough start to spring training.
So what of our three righties?
If Franklin Morales can't be ready in time, I'll begrudgingly admit that Alfredo Aceves is likely to be one of the two. The Sox will need someone who can start, and while Aceves is a starter in the same way Daniel Bard is a starter, the Sox will need someone they can sacrifice to keep the rest of the pen ready to go should the Sox find themselves in need of a long reliever or a spot starter. Aceves can be that guy, baggage or no.
If Morales is ready to go, however, Aceves should be the one furthest from the conversation. For one thing, there's just not a lot of evidence that he's a good pitcher. His 3.56 ERA in 324 innings, mostly relief, is fine. But it comes with a pretty big caveat in terms of peripherals. And even if he's just one of those low-BABIP guys, Aceves is still a fly ball pitcher, which makes him ill-suited to Fenway Park. Most likely, though, he's just pretty mediocre, and when you add in the possible disruption to the clubhouse, he's easy to say no to.
Clayton Mortensen comes with many of the same caveats, at least on the mound. His struggle with control makes his results seem even less tenable than Aceves'. What Mortensen has going for him that Aceves does not is age and hope. Where Aceves just had the worst year of his career, Mortensen is coming off the best of his--one which saw him start to really miss some bats. While his numbers in that department are likely not enough to overcome all the walks,with his ground ball tendencies and three years he has on Aceves, Mortensen seems the one more likely to trend upward in terms of actual performance. Add in his ability to get ground balls, and he at least bypasses Aceves.
Then there's Daniel Bard, who is kind of the wild card here. While Bard has options, he also has by far the most talent of the bunch. We know he's a guy who can close at his best. Unfortunately, we haven't seen his best for, oh, a year and a half now. And, so far, if spring has brought some increase in velocity over where he left off last year, it's also come with early mechanical troubles. The spot is Bard's for the taking, but he does have to show that he's back to lock it up. Otherwise it might be better for the Red Sox and Bard both to keep working at it out of the spotlight.
If Bard is not ready, then, do the Sox just have to turn to Mortensen? Probably, yes, but you shouldn't go putting any money on it just yet. The early returns for Mortensen in spring have been pretty bad, and if he can't turn them around then John Farrell may be encouraged to look elsewhere. One name that stands out from the rest of the pack is Alex Wilson. He's been waiting a long time to get the call to the big leagues, and where Mortensen is failing to impress so far, Wilson is off to a quick start in spring. He's a bit of a long shot to make it, but his name is probably in the mix.