When the Red Sox looked to fill out the last few spots in their bullpen before the 2010 season they brought in a host of veteran arms, all well north of 30 years of age, and had them go at it in Fort Myers.
In addition to 34-year-old Scott Atchison, who wound up the clear-cut in the competition, there was Joe Nelson (now 36), Brian Shouse (42), Scott Schoeneweis (37), Jorge Sosa (33) and old pal Alan Embree (40). Boof Bonser, 28 at the time, was the lone "youthful" participant in the bullpen derby.
The early portions of this offseason have seen general manager Theo Epstein go in a different direction in assembling potential bullpen candidates.
Days after trading for 25-year-old left-hander Andrew Miller, the Sox have claimed Taylor Buchholz, barely 29 and with just 285 major league innings to his credit, off waivers.
The pair not only represents youth unlike anything the aforementioned group of journeymen could claim, but bring a dose of potential and upside not found in guys like Embree, as respected as he was.
Buchholz comes cheap (he will be signed for a shade over $1 million), is under team control through 2012 and has shown the ability to not only succeed at the major league level but also to dominate. That came in 2008 with Colorado, when he was 6-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 63 games out of the bullpen, posting a 0.95 WHIP and limiting opponents to a .188 average in the process.
The right-hander may have paid the price as he missed all of 2009 following Tommy John surgery. However, he showed that he was fully recovered in short stints with the Rockies and Blue Jays last year, going 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in nine appearances.
The Red Sox figure to have two bullpen spots to fill. After closer Jonathan Papelbon — if and when he signs — setup man Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefield and Atchison there are no sure things. Hideki Okajima may not be tendered a deal by the Dec. 2 deadline. Miller, and now Buchholz, represent two intriguing candidates to satisfy those remaining slots. At the very least, they bring some youth to a group of candidates which lacked it last spring.