Let’s assume the Red Sox are prepared to go into camp without acquiring a proven closer. It’s not a good thing, but it’s worth remembering that the 2003 Sox started the season (by design) with no closer and came a Little short of the World Series after trading for one midseason, and the 2005 Sox made the playoffs despite having a barely effective closer all year long. So, let’s assume and hope one of the following emerges Papelbon-esque from Fort Myers (or, at the latest, Kansas City).
Here are your candidates:
- Mike Timlin
- Manny Delcarmen
- Craig Hansen
- Devern Hansack
- Julian Tavarez
- Jonathan Papelbon
- Craig Breslow
- Jon Lester or any of the 37,201 other pitchers who started games for the Red Sox last season (Gabbard, Pauley, DiNardo etc.)
- Hideki Okajima
- Brendan Donnelly
- J.C. Romero
Timlin could do the job, and do it well, provided he’s healthy and effective. Considering both are up in the air, and that the Red Sox seem disinclined to even put him in his traditional 8th-inning role because of that, this seems unlikely — unless he blows people away in camp.
Delcarmen did an excellent job last season until a hand injury late in the year (what? A member of the Red Sox with an injury in 2006?). His command improved, and his curveball was nasty. The last time the Sox had a reliever with a breaking ball that good, he saved 46 games and Stephen King wrote a book about him.
Hansen needs time in Pawtucket before returning to the majors, hopefully soon after the All-Star Break.
Breslow I like, and not just because he shares my hometown of New Haven. The southpaw was pretty good last season, although lefties hit him well. He could be great. He could be forgettable, like so many of the young Sox pitchers entering 2007.
Hansack has been bandied around these discussions, but his candidacy for this job seems predicated mainly on one start (albeit a great one) in the last game of a lost season, against the Orioles. Not exactly coming on in the eighth with Jeter at the plate, a runner on third, two outs and the Sox up by a run in the midst of a pennant race. But hey, maybe he’s got the stuff and wins the spot and surprises the world with 35 saves. It’s been done before.
Papelbon was great in the closing role last season, and we all know he can do the job. Theo Epstein said on WEEI that the decision to move Paps to the rotation was based on what was best for his shoulder "at that time." Is that the same as what is best at this time?
Lester appears to be healthy, and it’s not unreasonable to see him channel Papelbon’s success, but all those bases-loaded situations last season were too scary to give him a closing job without some major strides in control.
Gabbard and Pauley should at least be given looks during camp, if nothing else because they’re warm bodies who performed decently in tough situations last season. DiNardo has shown no reason why he should be wearing a Red Sox uniform at all in 2007. You also have to be concerned with bouncing young arms all over the place. Just because Papelbon could do it (we think/hope) doesn’t mean everyone can do it.
Okajima seems to be slated as a possible 8th-inning guy, but the unfamiliarity of most batters to him at least one trip through the league could be enough to buy the Red Sox some time to make an in-season deal if they’re so inclined.
Donnelly isn’t expected to close, at least based on Epstein’s comments upon completion of the trade. Nevertheless, if he’s good enough to shut down hitters in the seventh or eighth, shouldn’t we at least see if he can shut down hitters in the ninth?
Romero was mentioned by someone here as a potential candidate. The Sox seem to think his trouble last season was mechanical, and that he can return to previous dominance. If so, Romero could definitely win the job outright and solidify the bullpen.
Tavarez I left for last because he’s my favorite for this role. Part of his success stems from making sure his arm is tired — the more tired his arm (to a point), the more his sinker does what he needs it to do. The closer’s role seems ideal for creating this strange dynamic, as we often saw Papelbon out there two and three days in a row, often for multiple innings. (Of course, if the Sox go a week with nothing but blowouts, as does happen, what happens to the sinker then?) The Sox might be better served with Tavarez capturing his end-of-2006 spot-starter form and using it as a long reliever — and I could just as easily see Tavarez melting down as a closer — but I wouldn’t be surprised if he not only liked the role but excelled in it.
OK, enough from me. It’s your turn, SFs (and YFs who care). Assuming no major acquisitions, to whom do you think the Sox will turn for their closing duties in 2007?