Alfredo Aceves isn't the team's closer anymore, whether that's said outright or not. He likely wasn't once Andrew Bailey returned and pitched well, and blowing yet another save en route to another loss didn't endear his cause to manager Bobby Valentine, either. Part of the reason Aceves was placed in that role, though, was because he has a valuable arm capable of contributing in various ways, and it was an important spot in which he could pitch following his loss for a rotation spot in the spring.
Now, with the season lost insofar as making it to October goes, the Red Sox have a month to play around with different roles and see what they can figure out for 2013. That's what makes Valentine's statements from Wednesday in regards to Aceves intriguing, as he hinted that the Red Sox might be looking towards stretching Aceves back out in order to start him.
Aceves didn't work so well as a starter with the Red Sox in 2011, posting an even K/BB in his four starts while struggling with his command. For his career as a starter, that's about where he stands as well, with 24 strikeouts against 22 walks in 47-1/3 frames covering nine starts. Relief is where he's been at his best, with a 2.7 K/BB in 257 innings over 164 games. Assuming that relief isn't in the closer's role, anyway, where his control is fine, but his command is spotty, and homers have come in droves when he's off his game.
Do the Red Sox want Aceves to start, or is this a situation where, with nothing to lose and no real starting candidates for 2013 to take innings away from now that Franklin Morales is on the disabled list, they want to give Aceves the chance to prove he should or can't handle this role? It hasn't worked out for Aceves in the past, but he's also barely been given a shot in the majors, and has some success as a starter in the minors to point to.
Boston also might be looking at a 2011-esque situation in terms of luring free agent starters to spring training, as the rotation is far less open than it was at the start of 2012. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront are likely to take up the first four spots, leaving the Sox with just the one hole to fill. Whereas, heading into 2012, it was just Lester, Buchholz, and the departed Josh Beckett who had spots locked up, enabling Boston to sign Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, and Carlos Silva, giving them some additional arms to play around with in the spring, one of whom stuck with the club as a setup man when he didn't win a starting gig.
The aforementioned Morales might be the guy for that spot should no one sign with the Sox, but with no other options that can be counted on around, the Red Sox need to figure out who they already have in their possession who could handle starting duties if necessary. Yes, Boston could go out and sign a starting pitcher, but if the market goes crazy, as it tends to do when the game is awash in money, then that becomes more difficult to do. It's best to have backup plans around, just in case player acquisition doesn't pan out.
Triple-A Pawtucket has Zach Stewart as an option. Well, maybe, considering his career in the majors as a starter to this point. Chris Hernandez is also there, but he's no sure thing for 2013, given his K/BB rates, reliance on grounders, and minimal experience in Triple-A. When that works, it's great, but when it doesn't, it ends poorly for everyone involved. Both of those arms could do something productive for Boston in 2013 if needed, but neither is what you would qualify as reliable options -- it's something of an Andrew Miller/Kyle Weiland situation all over again.
The rest of the dreams have to do with Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, or Allen Webster destroying Double-A to the point that they can barely touch down in Pawtucket before coming to Boston to save the day, or Rubby De La Rosa pitching out of his mind in the spring as a starter and giving the Sox their new first line of defense. And dreams they are, as De La Rosa might be a reliever, and the rest of the bunch, while talented with futures worth looking ahead to, do not have a "Spring 2013" ETA attached to them.
That's where it comes back to knowing what someone like Aceves can or cannot do. If Aceves doesn't show the Sox anything in a stretched out state in September, then maybe they have to turn their focus towards acquiring another pitcher with starting credentials this winter. If he all of a sudden pitches well as a starter, and the scouts like what they see out of him, then maybe that becomes less of a priority going forward. Knowing is half the battle, as some of of our era's greatest philosophers espoused.
This could also just be the preamble to giving Aceves another shot at starting in the spring, too, so placing the burden of the Red Sox's direction this winter on his September might be a bit much. Either way, though, Boston doesn't have much to lose by finding out. They already know what he can do as a bullpen piece that goes wherever he's needed. Now, with Boston out of it in 2012, it's time to find out if he can do the one thing more valuable than that.