Epstein hopes additions make 'pen a strength
With Jenks, Wheeler in tow, Red Sox shore up glaring weakness
BOSTON -- Once the Red Sox were done with their showcase acquisitions -- Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford -- general manager Theo Epstein focused in on another job that might not have been as glamorous, but equally as important.
The bullpen was Boston's glaring weakness in 2010. But after making three free-agent signings within the last week -- capped by the finalization of a two-year contract with Bobby Jenks on Tuesday -- Epstein's hope is that the relief corps can be a strength in '11.
The way the Red Sox look at it, they now have three relievers with closer's stuff. Jonathan Papelbon will remain the closer. There is also a possible future closer in Daniel Bard, who has electric stuff and dominated in the setup role last year. With longtime White Sox closer Jenks in that mix, the possibilities have gotten a lot more appetizing for Boston in the late innings.
Epstein also added Dan Wheeler last week -- a solid setup man who flew under the radar with the Rays the past few years -- and Matt Albers, a ground-ball specialist.
"I think the biggest thing is we've added a lot of depth, experience, power arms, and strike throwers to our 'pen," Epstein said. "Last year, it was a struggle all season long for us to cobble it together and give [manager Terry Francona] some quality options out there. I felt even if we broke camp today, we'd have an abundance of options and different looks and guys who can go through the heart of the other team's order, and, hopefully, get the ball to Pap."
While the stable of righties is set (Scott Atchison and Tim Wakefield are also back in the fold), the left side is more of a work in progress. Hideki Okajima, the team's primary southpaw the past four seasons, was non-tendered and is still a free agent.
Clearly, Boston is hoping for a nice leap forward from Felix Doubront, a prospect who transitioned from starter to relief late last season.
"Long term, we see Felix as a starting pitcher," Epstein said. "He's going to be one of the guys who comes into Spring Training and gets stretched out on a starter's program, but we're certainly going to evaluate him as a potential fit, and a good one, as a left-hander to start the year."
Another pitcher who falls under that same category is Andrew Miller, a once-prized prospect the Sox acquired from the Marlins in November, non-tendered in December and then re-signed to a Minor League deal a couple of weeks later.
"We're open to both [roles for Miller]," Epstein said. "I think long term, the goal is to get him back to being a starting pitcher. He's got tremendous ceiling as a starter. For the short term, it's probably worth our while to take a look at him out of the 'pen, especially in Spring Training. I think some of the adjustments we plan to make with him -- not going into too much detail, but simplifying some things -- lend themselves to a look as a reliever in Spring Training."
Rich Hill is another non-roster lefty who will have a chance to win a job in Spring Training.
All in all, the Red Sox are amped about the bullpen they've assembled.
"You know, it's going to be exciting," Jenks said.