Well, so much for one portion of my hypothetical 2012 Red Sox bullpen, as Dan Wheeler had his option declined today by the Red Sox, according to the team's official Twitter feed. Scott Atchison, who bounced back-and-forth between Pawtucket and Boston, also had his option declined.
This doesn't mean that these two pitchers aren't eligible to be re-signed, but for now, it's up in the air. Wheeler struggled to start the 2011 season, posting an 11.32 ERA with four homers allowed in just 10-1/3 innings through May 4, but following a stint on the DL, returned to be one of Boston's very best relievers the rest of the way, with an ERA of 2.54, 7.1 strikeouts per nine against just 1.6 walks per nine, and just 0.7 homers allowed.
You wouldn't know it by when he was used, though, as Wheeler threw just 39 frames from May 21 through year's end, with many of those coming in low-leverage situations. Out of his 201 batters faced, 160 of those plate appearances came in situations categorized as "Low Leverage" according to Baseball Reference.
His inability to get lefties out consistently hurts his value, and if Boston chooses to rework Wheeler's deal in order to pay him less but retain him in 2012, then this makes sense, but letting him go completely (from a performance point-of-view) is... odd. Arbitration is still a possibility, though, and if someone else signed Wheeler should he refuse to accept arb, then Wheeler would be a Type B free agent, assuming compensation still works the same (or is allowed to continue for one last season) under the upcoming new collective bargaining agreement.
As for Atchison, part of his value was in his ability to move up and down between the minors and Boston as the team needed additional help in the bullpen. Now that he is out of options, though, the majors were just about the only place for him. Given the Red Sox already have a full bullpen in the majors without Atchison (Felix Doubront is also out of options, and when it's between the young, potentially solid prospect type and the fringe veteran, it's an easy decision) this isn't completely surprising news.