Amid the drama, there was one bright spot for the Red Sox last season — the bullpen.
The relief staff combined to tally a 3.88 ERA, an impressive feat considering the starting rotation’s struggles constantly placed them in a bind. Facing adversity, the bullpen came through and racked up 475 strikeouts, fourth in the majors.
They did so despite many moving pieces. For the majority of the season, the Red Sox were without closer Andrew Bailey and were forced to demote an inconsistent performer in Mark Melancon early on.
Despite the constant shuffle, Andrew Miller, Clayton Mortensen and Junichi Tazawa blossomed into major contributors after getting promoted from Triple-A at different points last season. Even Chris Carpenter showed promise in September.
When the 2013 season rolls around, Bailey — if healthy — is likely to start the season as a closer. But based on Tazawa’s dominance in the last two months, he’d be a strong candidate to be Bailey’s set-up man.
Through 44 innings in 2012, Tazawa compiled a 1-1 record with a 1.43 ERA to go along with 45 strikeouts. There’s still the chance the Red Sox could convert Tazawa into a starter, but after the Daniel Bard experiment, it’s doubtful.
The Red Sox will have a surplus of lefties around with Miller, Rich Hill, Franklin Morales and Craig Breslow. Morales’ status, however, hinges on whether the team wants to shift him into a starting role. Either way, that’s enough firepower to stymie opposing hitters.
Boston, of course, also has excess options to bridge the gap between the starting rotation and back end of the bullpen in Mortensen, Carpenter, Alfredo Aceves and Scott Atchison. If Vicente Padilla, who is a free agent, elects to return it’ll only fortify that group.
But Bard is the ultimate wild card. Once a top set-up man, Bard lost his touch as he attempted to become a starting pitcher. When his command went out the window, the Red Sox were forced to send him down to Pawtucket for the majority of the year.
Under John Farrell‘s watch as a pitching coach, Bard blossomed into his superior self. Given the reunion — now that Farrell is the team’s new skipper — Bard could be poised to reclaim his mechanics and regain elite form.
That possibility alone would serve the Red Sox better than any offseason addition to the bullpen.