This Time, Byrd’s Here Merely for Insurance


Aug 11, 2009

This isn't the first time we've gone into August wondering what the Red Sox had planned for Paul Byrd.

It was 364 days ago that the Sox last made a move for the right-hander, then a 37-year-old castoff from the struggling Indians. With Tim Wakefield injured and Clay Buchholz struggling, the Red Sox made a move to acquire some pitching depth. They swung a deal for Byrd in which they gave up mere pocket change — the deal was for cash or a player to be named later, and the player later named was minor leaguer Mickey Hall.

Some things were the same a year ago (cases in point: Wakefield and Buchholz), but things were ultimately different. Brad Penny was under contract with the Dodgers, battling injuries. Junichi Tazawa was in Japan, pitching for Nippon Oil. No one stateside had even heard of him. Michael Bowden wasn't even on Terry Francona's radar, although he did make one start for the Sox in 2008.

Last August, the Red Sox swung a deal for Byrd because they needed him. They really only had four respectable starting pitchers, and they were desperate to send Buchholz back to the minor leagues for more conditioning. The kid just wasn't ready for a prime-time pennant race. Byrd was the answer to the club's biggest problem.

This year is a little different.

Now, the Red Sox are bringing Byrd out of retirement to bolster their pitching staff. Because he hasn't set foot on a baseball field this year, he's going to take some time to warm up before returning to the majors. But by Sept. 1, the Red Sox should have another big league pitcher ready to go.

This isn't a move borne out of desperation. The Red Sox have a capable five-man rotation in place — Buchholz has been reliable except for one bad outing, Tazawa is young but shows promise, and Penny is perfectly fine as far as middle-of-the-rotation guys go. The Red Sox' staff isn't perfect, but it's getting the job done, and the Sox are far from panicking.

Acquiring Byrd was simply a low-risk move to add some more depth.

Plus, Wakefield is on the way back. Daisuke Matsuzaka might not be far behind him. The Red Sox will have a much more fortified pitching staff come September, just in time for the stretch run. September often comes down to "Who has that extra arm?" — and a pennant race might hang in the balance.

The Red Sox now have the depth to outlast the rest of the AL. If anything should come up, the Sox will have the depth to address whatever adversity they face.

Byrd is an added luxury for the Red Sox: a sixth starter, and maybe after injuries subside, a seventh or an eighth. That may not sound necessary, but what was Tazawa two months ago? A tenth starter? Things happen, and the best teams are prepared.

Last season, the Red Sox acquired Byrd for a bigger role. He even made the postseason roster, and he made a long relief appearance in the ALCS when Jon Lester gave out in the sixth inning of Game 3.

That probably isn't in Byrd's job description this time around. Byrd is an added bonus — a depth guy. And if anything comes up, then maybe he's more than that.

And in Boston, things have been coming up all year. That's why Byrd's here in the first place.

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