Red Sox Should Keep Daniel Bard at Back End of Bullpen, As Moving Him to Rotation Could Create More Questions


Red Sox Should Keep Daniel Bard at Back End of Bullpen, As Moving Him to Rotation Could Create More QuestionsHave you ever seen one of those cartoons in which the character plugs a hole in a barrel, only to then have water seep out another hole?

Well, the Red Sox could face a similar situation if they're not careful with how they handle Daniel Bard.

The prospect of Bard joining the Red Sox rotation is intriguing. But it's also a move that may bring about more questions than answers.

Jonathan Papelbon's departure this offseason seemed to pave the way for Bard to become the Red Sox' new closer. The hard-throwing righty has been considered a closer-in-waiting since arriving in Boston, and with the team not making a lot of headway in its efforts to replace Papelbon via the open market, Bard seemed like the logical choice to step in as the ninth-inning guy.

But somewhere along the way, that passing of the torch has become less obvious. Instead, with the Sox now prepared to enter spring training with Bard vying for a spot in the rotation, that torch remains in limbo.

Perhaps some of the reason for the Sox' reluctance to name Bard the closer can be attributed to his struggles down the stretch in 2011, as some may wonder whether he's fit for the high-pressure nature of the ninth. But mostly, it's due to the question marks surrounding the team's fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.

Beyond the top three of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, it remains unclear what the back end of the Sox rotation will look like come Opening Day. Alfredo Aceves remains a viable option to fill one of the vacancies, and the current thought is that Bard could do the same for the other. The true optimist views Bard as a potential top-flight starter, an asset that would obviously be most valuable to Boston.

But Bard excelling as a starter is no sure thing. And in filling the holes in the rotation with Aceves and Bard, the Red Sox are essentially opening up two more holes in a different location.

Yes, the unpredictability surrounding the back end of the rotation is concerning. But moving pieces around with no clear plan to fill the resulting holes would do little to alleviate the current angst.

For much of last season, the Red Sox struggled to find a guy who could consistently bridge the gap from the starting rotation to the shutdown duo of Bard and Papelbon. With Papelbon now out of the mix completely, the Sox bullpen is already inferior to last year's unit as it's comprised. The team still lacks a middle-inning presence, and the Sox are now no longer as strong at the back end.

If the Sox elect to completely remove Bard from the bullpen, it would mean one of the Red Sox' biggest strengths in 2011 immediately becomes one of its biggest weaknesses entering 2012.

If Bard was a sure bet in the rotation, and the Red Sox had a set plan to fill the void left by him and Papelbon in the eighth and ninth innings, then the move would make more sense. But Bard hasn't started since the minors in 2007, when he got lit up at the Single-A level. The 26-year-old might be better-suited for a starting role from a talent perspective now than he was in '07, but there's still no one on the current roster who seems to fit into the Sox' late-inning plans this season other than Bobby Jenks (who's battling his way back from injuries).

Bard's 10.64 ERA in September last season — and 5.85 mark in September/October for his career — might be alarming. But what would be even more alarming is if those struggles come even earlier in 2012 as Bard reaches an unfamiliar number of innings as a starter.

The Red Sox are obviously still working hard to add some quality arms, whether that be in the form of a reliever or a starter. And landing some talent will go a long way toward clearing up what is an otherwise fuzzy picture of the Red Sox' 2012 pitching staff.

When it comes to Bard's future, though, the best move might just be to leave him where he's already thrived at the major league level. After all, it worked with Papelbon in 2007, and we all know how that season ended for the Sox.

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