Cubs’ Decision to Claim Daniel Bard Makes Sense, Although Pitcher’s Future Still Very Unpredictable

Daniel BardTheo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know Daniel Bard well. Apparently, they also have faith in the struggling pitcher.

The Cubs claimed Bard off waivers Wednesday, ending the 28-year-old’s rollercoaster Red Sox career. Bard will joined Epstein and Hoyer in Chicago, where he’ll be looking to resurrect a career that has fallen apart over the last two years.

“Not surprised that the Cubs would claim him, given the familiarity with Theo and Jed, who drafted him here [in Boston],” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Wednesday. “I guess the most important thing is we wish him well. We hope he gets back on track. There’s still a good pitcher in there once he gets back on track, we believe.”

Bard, who was ranked the No. 81 prospect by Baseball America before the 2007 season, became a dominant force in Boston’s bullpen upon joining the majors. He posted a 3.65 ERA in 49 appearances in 2009 and then compiled a 1.93 ERA in 73 appearances in 2010. For a three-year stretch, Bard was considered one of baseball’s premier setup men, and it seemed possible that he would someday become the team’s closer once Jonathan Papelbon departed. The Red Sox attempted to convert Bard back into a starting pitcher in 2012, though, and the results were disastrous.

Bard went 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA in 17 games (10 starts) with the Red Sox last season before being demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. The right-hander posted a 7.03 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 31 appearances (one start) with the PawSox in 2012, leading to questions about whether or not Bard would ever become his former self. The questions have only grown as Bard’s struggles have been joined by injury issues, resulting in an equally disastrous 2013 season.

The Red Sox designated Bard for assignment Sunday as part of their first wave of September call-ups. Boston needed to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for recently acquired outfielder Quintin Berry, who gives the Red Sox a speedy option off the bench to use as a pinch runner. In other words, the Red Sox simply couldn’t afford to wait around any longer for Bard to show signs of improvement.

“I’m not going to say that he can’t [return to his 2009 to 2011 form],” Farrell said. “There’s still a player and a pitcher there that is motivated and yet any time there is activity disrupted by an injury, that’s going to slow that process, which time was of the essence with us. We needed the roster space. Based on what we saw over the last couple of years, it needs to be built back gradually and however long that takes is the unknown in this.”

Bard still has an option remaining on his contract and will be arbitration eligible this offseason, which means that the Cubs will have to decide before Dec. 2 whether or not to tender him a contract. If they do, they’ll head to arbitration and Bard will secure a minimum of about $1.5 million. While that isn’t exactly breaking the bank in the majors, it’s a decent payday for a pitcher who comes without any certainty whatsoever.

Financial factors aside, it isn’t shocking to see the Cubs roll the dice. Epstein was the Red Sox general manager and Hoyer was an assistant GM when Bard was drafted by Boston in the first round (28th overall) in 2006. They’ve seen him at his best, and given that the Cubs — who are 59-80 — aren’t going anywhere again this season, they could afford to spend a 40-man roster spot on him.

Bard has a lot to prove. Then again, out in Chicago, so do Epstein and Hoyer. They might as well all do it together.

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

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