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I no longer hear anyone questioning Theo Epstein’s decision to sign Joel Pineiro to a $4 million deal with $2 million in closing incentives rather than inking Eric Gagne to a $6 million contract. Even if Jonathan Papelbon did not return to the closer’s role, Pineiro has looked better than Gagne in spring training. Pineiro started slowly but has recovered to post a 3.09 ERA (10 games, 11.2 innings, five runs and 15 hits) while the injury-plagued Gagne has recorded a 15.00 ERA (five runs and seven hits in three innings) and has clearly not rebounded from his injury woes.
Rangers officials admit that he will not be able to pitch back-to-back games early in the season, but they are committed to Gagne opening the season as the team’s closer. Akinori Otsuka, who has thrown the ball well this spring, will close on days that Gagne is unavailable. The Sox play a three-game series at Texas April 6-8.
Perhaps Gagne will recover at some point this season and become a dominating closer, but I am glad Epstein chose not to sign him. I advocated a deal with Washington for Chad Cordero (at the right price) or a deal with Houston for Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls or Dan Wheeler (at the right price as well), but it was too risky for the Sox to depend on an injury-maligned pitcher like Gagne to regain his form as an overpowering closer. Pineiro is better suited as a middle reliever than he is a closer, in my opinion, and he also can help as a spot starter. I would rather have Pineiro on the roster than Gagne.
Who will close when Papelbon is unavailable?
This is a question many Sox fans have not considered. Unlike last season, when Papelbon entered some games in the eighth inning and then appeared the next night, Terry Francona will likely (hopefully) be more cautious in using the all-star closer. Who do you think should get the call on days when Papelbon will not pitch? My guess is Mike Timlin, when he returns, and possibly Pineiro, if he throws the ball well early in the season.