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Closing In

With Jonathan Papelbon joining the rotation, the Boston Red Sox have a huge gap at the most essential part in their bullpen: the closer's role. The Red Sox, historically, haven't had the best luck come closing games (there are exceptions of course: Keith Foulke, 2004; Papelbon, 2006) and 2007 looks to be another year of uncertainty.

Currently the best option out on the market is Eric Gagne, but he apparently won't be wearing the "B" because another team has stepped up in the pursuit of the injury-prone All-Star. Theo Epstein said recently that if Manny Ramirez were to be traded, the bullpen - a closer, no doubt - would be needed in return. Unfortunately for our bullpen, Manny's not going anywhere now.

Let's not even mention Keith Foulke who declined arbitration and will land us a pretty nice draft pick.

So let's break it down: who's left that could fill the closers role? There are a few veteran arms that may have a few more innings left. There are also a couple of youngsters biting at the bit to replace Papelbon. Some options are better than others, for sure.

Mike Timlin - 2006: 6-6, 4.36, 64.0
Timlin is the glue that holds the bullpen together. He's been there the longest and he can handle the young talent. His arm, unfortunately, is getting older and 2006 certainly was a bad signs of things to come. He could continue to break down or he could bring it back together like he's done before.

Julian Tavarez - 2006: 5-4, 4.47, 98.2
It's scary to think but Tavarez, who was absolutely wretched at the beginning of last season, could make an attempt for the job. We all hated on him last year; it's no secret. But in the end he put up some pretty solid numbers that we shouldn't ignore. He had a 3.52 earned-run average in September and October.

Craig Hansen - 2006: 2-2, 6.63, 38.0
Hansen was kind of rushed to the majors a couple years back, but he still has a really strong arm and the ability to be a great major league closer. He has begun to warm up to major league hitters so this may be the year he turns things around. If he can keep his pitches in the strike zone than he'll have a great shot at being the future closer.

Manny Delcarmen - 2006: 2-0, 5.06, 53.1
Prospect-wise, Delcarmen has always been lower than Hansen. However, if you compare the major league track record of the two, Delcarmen has been better. I feel the same way about Delcarmen as Hansen. It's a horse race between the two; they're neck and neck as they race to becoming great pitchers. Who's going to get there first?

Edgar Martinez - 2006: (POR) 5-3, 2.61, 69.0
Am I jumping the gun? Possibly, but we are talking about Tavarez or Timlin becoming the closer, so this could happen also. Martinez, a converted catcher, has been nothing but great since pitching in the Red Sox organization. He should start the year at Pawtucket but, depending on the bullpen situation in Boston, we could see him quickly.

In the bullpen, but long shots:
Javier Lopez - Lefty specialist. No way he earns the job unless he drastically improves against righties.
Hideki Okajima - Another `specialist,' but could earn the job if major league hitters can't figure out his over-the-top curveball.