Apparently, that’s the case. The Red Sox signed Joel Pineiro to a one-year deal for $4 million with incentives that could increase the amount by $2 million. The incentives are based on games finished, which indicates that the 28-year-old Pineiro will be given the opportunity to close.
I know this is risky, but I like the move. I would rather the Sox keep prospects like Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden than deal them away for Chad Cordero. Why? Because the Sox have Craig Hansen and Bryce Cox, who are long-term answers for the closer’s role. I imagine one will be a set-up man and the other a closer, and maybe one or both will have such an exceptional spring training that Terry Francona will have no choice but to give one of them a chance as the 2007 closer. However, it would be nice to give Hansen and Cox another year to develop their skills – Cox at Triple-A and Hansen in Boston as a middle reliever.
Pineiro is just 28, and he was once one of the AL’s top young starting pitchers. Bryan Price, the Mariners pitching coach, said that Pineiro may have been the team’s closer a few seasons ago if they did not have Sasaki.
I’m still not convinced that Epstein will not acquire Cordero, but I am satisfied that a closer will emerge from the group of relievers the Sox already have. The most appealing candidates in my mind are Hansen, Edgar Martinez, Brendan Donnelly and now Pineiro. I think Martinez could surprise people in spring training. The bottom line is that Boston has quality depth in the starting rotation and in the bullpen, and that is good news as spring training nears.
Lots of interesting discussion in the last post about the importance of a closer and the value of effective set-up men. It is interesting how the bullpen has evolved over time in baseball.
Really, the concept of a closer started appearing in the early 70’s when Rollie Fingers was with the Oakland A’s. There was a time when a team’s bullpen was composed of pitchers who were considered not good enough to start. Today, a strong bullpen is as vital as a deep rotation.
I firmly believe that a proven closer gives his team a psychological advantage late in the game. Opposing teams are more aggressive in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings because they know that they have a better chance of scoring before the ace closer enters.
This is why it is valuable to have "ace" set-up men. One poster on either my blog or Ian’s blog made a valid point about the San Diego Padres. Their batting lineup has been unimpressive the last two seasons, and their rotation is not deep. The main reason why they have reached the playoffs is their bullpen – with set-up men like Scott Linebrink and last season Cla Meredith paving the way for Trevor Hoffman.
As for the Red Sox in 2007, I feel good about Brendan Donnelly as an eighth inning guy, J.C. Romero as a left-handed specialist and Mike Timlin serving as a seventh inning set-up man. It will be important for Hideki Okajima, Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen to step up to lessen Timlin’s workload, although I fully expect Timlin to have a solid season since he will not appear in the WBC and he is undergoing an intensive shoulder strengthening program this off season.
I hope that Theo does not rush into finding a closer. I prefer that he wait and make the right deal rather than pulling the trigger in December. Since the health of J.D. Drew is a concern, it might be a mistake to trade Coco Crisp or Wily Mo Pena now. The answer could be signing Marcus Giles and trading Dustin Pedroia in a package for a closer. I read a report where one MLB executive said he expects the Red Sox to pursue Giles, who is from San Diego and seemingly will sign with the Padres to join his brother, Brian Giles. Who knows. Maybe he will find the appeal of playing for the Sox to hard to resist.
The bottom line is that the Sox need a closer. Craig Hansen is not ready. Bryce Cox needs more time in the minors. Devern Hansack is untested in that role. Brad Lidge, Chad Cordero, Mike Gonzalez and Akinori Otsuka are the names most often mentioned as targets for the Sox. Chan Ho Park could be a one-season option. With the acquisition of Donnelly and Romero – and the signing of Okajima – the Sox have solidified their middle relief. Now it’s time to find the final piece of the 2007 season’s puzzle.