Brian Wilson Might Return to Majors, But Don’t Expect Bearded Reliever to Be Red Sox’ Bullpen Savior

Brian WilsonIt’s the All-Star break. We’re halfway there, living on a prayer and all that good stuff.

And what a first half it’s been for the Red Sox, who enter the break with the American League’s best record. The Sox have exceeded the expectations of most, and they look like legitimate World Series contenders. Quickly, they’re once again becoming the focal point of Boston sports.

The Red Sox’ success hasn’t stopped the mailbag questions from rolling in, though. In fact, the number of responses seems to increase each week, which is awesome. Keep them coming. We’ve got plenty of baseball left, and the trade deadline is always an exciting time, especially when the hometown club is in the thick of things.

This week, the questions touched on the Red Sox’ trade deadline approach, Xander Bogaerts‘ timetable, Brian Wilson‘s whereabouts and Manny Ramirez‘s potential big league return. Rather than dip the toes, let’s cannonball into things.

How far away is Xander Bogaerts — next season?
— Tom O’leary

Next season seems like the most likely timetable for when Xander Bogaerts will make regular contributions to the Red Sox, but I wouldn’t rule out him joining the big club at some point this season.

The left side of the Red Sox’ infield has been a fluid situation, with Jose Iglesias bursting onto the scene, Stephen Drew battling injuries and Will Middlebrooks being demoted following a rough start to the year. That has led to widespread speculation about whether or not the Red Sox will consider making a move prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to address the area. Right now, they’re getting by just fine with Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder in Drew’s absence, but they’d probably welcome an upgrade if it’s available. There’s also the possibility that the Red Sox could consider including someone like Drew in a deal to land pitching, at which point the door could swing open for Bogaerts.

The 20-year-old keeps reinforcing his status as an elite prospect. He’s having a tremendous season in the minors, and he drew rave reviews at Sunday’s MLB Futures Game in New York. The Red Sox should be in good shape when Drew returns, but it’s hard not to think about Manny Machado’s surprise arrival in Baltimore last season when considering Bogaerts’ career path.

The Red Sox can afford to be patient with Bogaerts, and they probably will, but he’s banging on the door — and it keeps getting louder.

Click here to read more about Bogaerts’ Futures Game performance >>

What are the odds that the Red Sox trade Jacoby Ellsbury before the deadline and actually get something good out of the deal? They’re not going to re-sign him, and they can get more than a draft pick for him when he walks.
— Jacob Miller

I’d be shocked if Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t the Red Sox’ center fielder for the remainder of the season. As you mentioned, there’s a chance — and probably a good one — that he’ll sign elsewhere in the offseason, but he has become too important to Boston’s 2013 effort.

Ellsbury has been tearing it up of late, serving as the perfect catalyst atop the Red Sox’ order. You don’t trade that type of player when you have World Series aspirations, regardless of the player’s future plans.

Why don’t more Red Sox players act as “happy” as Koji Uehara?
— Mary Twomey

It’s not because they’re not excited. Koji is just an interesting character.

Why don’t the Red Sox sign Brian Wilson and give him a try at the closer’s role? He was successful in San Francisco, and he would definitely add another great clubhouse presence.
–Alex, Nashua, N.H.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Brian Wilson. What makes them so tough to answer is that we don’t have a whole lot of information about his whereabouts.

Ironically enough, that’s also why I wouldn’t hold my breath when it comes to him and his beard.

ESPN’s Buster Olney reported recently that Wilson has been working out in Hawaii and could audition for scouts around Aug. 1, so there’s a chance he could pitch this season. There’s so much uncertainty surrounding Wilson, though, that you can’t rely on him to put you over the top in a pennant race.

Wilson will need time to prepare, make rehab starts, etc., after “auditioning” — assuming that scouts even like what they see. That means we’re probably looking at late August or early September before he’ll even return, which, let’s keep in mind, would be his first major league action since April 2012.

Plus, none of the uncertainty even takes into account the regression that Wilson showed in his last full season with the Giants in 2011. His walks per nine innings skyrocketed to a career-high 5.1, and his strikeouts per nine innings dropped to 8.8 after a career-high 11.2 mark in 2010. His 1.47 WHIP was the 15th-worst among all relievers and the second-worst among closers behind Kevin Gregg (1.64), who was designated for assignment by the Orioles that September.

None of this is meant to discredit what Wilson has done throughout his career or what he might actually still be capable of. After all, he’s a three-time All-Star who has pitched in big games, and he might be a fit for Boston in that the Red Sox’ bullpen is comprised of mostly fly-ball pitchers and could use a ground-ball pitcher. (Wilson’s career 32.9 percent fly-ball rate is lower than any mark posted by a Red Sox reliever not named Andrew Miller this season.) But everyone needs to keep their expectations reasonable.

If the price is right, there’s really no harm in taking a flyer, I suppose. Just don’t expect a 31-year-old pitcher coming off his second Tommy John surgery and a long layoff to be the answer to a team’s bullpen concerns.

What is the exact amount of force required to hit a ball from home plate to the top of the big Green Monster?
— Leon Branch

Lots and lots of force.

What do you think are the chances of No. 15 and No. 10 being the next two numbers that go up on the facade? I think Dustin Pedroia is a lock, and I know it’s early for Jose Iglesias, but if his defense is really as spectacular as it’s supposed to be — and I’ve already been awed a couple of times this year — I think he has a chance. Also, so much for that bridge year, huh?
— Philip Heck

First off, I love the enthusiasm. Dustin Pedroia and Jose Iglesias are both having tremendous seasons, and there’s a lot to be excited about. That being said, you need to pump the brakes a little bit.

It’s reasonable to think that Pedroia’s number may someday be retired by the Red Sox, but even in his case, I wouldn’t consider it a “lock.” If he continues his current trajectory, then he absolutely could see his No. 15 hanging in right field. There’s just too much that changes in sports on a year-to-year basis, however, for me to definitively say that his number will be up there when all is said and done.

In the case of Jose Iglesias, let’s let a full season play out before we start planning our trips to Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame enshrinement. Iglesias has tremendous potential, and I, too, have had to pick my jaw up off the floor a few times this season, but the kid hasn’t even played 100 games at the major league level. I’m not ready to make any determinations on him, as it would require throwing crap at the wall in the hopes that it sticks in 20 years.

Also, did you forget No. 34? David Ortiz has a case to be up there before anyone, no? We’re talking about arguably the greatest designated hitter in baseball history.

Personally, though, I think that there are way too many retired numbers across all sports. (I’m looking at you, Boston Celtics.)

What are your thoughts on Manny Ramirez? Do you think that he has anything left to contribute at the major league level? If you do, are the Rangers going to bring him up as a DH/outfielder? Do you think Manny will be Manny any time soon?

Also, do you have any thoughts on the next move that the Red Sox might make before the trade deadline? Or are they finished with just the Matt Thornton trade?
–Jim, Denver

Come on, Jim. No double-dipping.

All kidding aside, I don’t really know what to expect when it comes to Manny Ramirez, and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels even admitted at the time of the deal that he didn’t know what to expect, either. I think it was a worthwhile dice roll, though.

It’s now looking increasingly likely that Ramirez will find his way back to the majors, as he’s performing well at Triple-A Round Rock, and Lance Berkman’s injury really opened the door. I could see him getting a call-up soon and serving in a DH role — his outfield days are probably over. Don’t expect the same Manny, though, as it seems like he has really toned things down.

As far as the Red Sox’ next move, I fully expect them to continue pursuing bullpen help. They might also kick the tires on a starter if they have concerns about Clay Buchholz, but the discussions probably start and end with relievers.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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