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Andrew Bailey: Boston’s New Closer

The Boston Red Sox picked up a Jonathan Papelbon replacement on Wednesday, acquiring Andrew Bailey (and Ryan Sweeney) from the Oakland A’s for Josh Reddick and prospects Raul Alcantara and Miles Head. The five-player swap has plenty of fantasy implications for both Boston and Oakland, so let’s briefly break down the big storylines.

Boston has a long-term Papelbon replacement

Bailey, 27, is under team control through the 2014 season, so the Red Sox won’t be lavishing an eight-figure annual salary on a free agent closer anytime soon. In three seasons, Bailey has struck out a batter per inning, walked 2.53 per nine, surrendered 0.57 HR/9 and posted a 2.74 FIP. Bailey’s ERA (2.07) is much lower than his FIP, but that’s due mostly to absurdly low BABIP totals and sky-high strand rates in 2009 and 2010.

He’ll also be going to a much less pitcher-friendly park. The Coliseum decreases offense by five percent compared to a neutral venue for left-handed hitters and six percent for righties, according to StatCorner. Fenway, meanwhile, has a 104 park factor for lefties and a 107 park factor for right-handers. If healthy, Bailey figures to post a high-twos to low-threes ERA. I’d put him in the same tier as guys like Joakim Soria and Carlos Marmol.

Health has been a major issue the past two seasons, though. Bailey pulled a muscle in his side and had surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow in 2010, limiting him to 49 innings, and he threw just 41.2 IP in 2011 while missing the first two months with a forearm strain (to add insult to injury, he also took a line drive to the head during batting practice in September, though he returned to action soon after). If you’re going to draft Bailey, you’ll also want to think about rostering his set-up man and fellow trade acquisition, Mark Melancon.

Beware of Brian Fuentes

Fuentes may get the first crack at saves in Oakland, but don’t be surprised if he’s usurped by Grant Balfour or maybe even Fautino De Los Santos at some point in 2012. Fuentes posted a middling 3.70 ERA and a 4.16 FIP last year, practically scrapping his breaking stuff while striking out a career-low 6.48 batters per nine innings. Bill James thinks Fuentes (projected 3.70 FIP) is an inferior option to Balfour (3.00) and De Los Santos (2.97). It’s only a matter of time before the “proven closer” is cast aside in favor of a batter relief option.

Daniel Bard‘s shift to the rotation is more likely

With Boston now possessing quality closer and set-up man options, Bard is free to convert from the bullpen and give the Sox something more than the likes of Andrew Miller behind the Jon Lester/Josh Beckett/Clay Buchholz trio. Bard hasn’t started a game since he was in A-Ball back in 2007, and it didn’t go so well back then (a 47/78 K/BB ratio and a 7-plus ERA in 75 innings). But there are reasons to think this move will work.

Bard has improved his control each season in the majors while still whiffing better than a batter per inning, lowering his walk percentage from 10.4 in 2009 to 10.2 in 2010 to 8.3 this past year. His ground ball rate is up three years running, too (from 45% to 46.7% to 52.7%), and he began to use his hard changeup more often in 2011 to complement his sizzling fastball and power slider. Looking at platoon splits for a reliever may be folly, but Bard did perform significantly better against left-handed hitters in 2011:

2009: 2.15 K/BB, 5.11 FIP
2010: 1.53 K/BB, 3.86 FIP
2011: 2.65 K/BB, 3.33 FIP

Boston will keep an eye on Bard’s innings, but I could see an Alexi Ogando-type season for Bard in 2012: 150-160 frames and a mid-to-high-threes ERA.

Ryan Madson has one less suitor

And then there was one. While other late-inning arms like Papelbon, Heath Bell, Joe Nathan and Frank Francisco signed with new clubs and K-Rod accepted arbitration from the Brewers, Madson is left on the market despite placing 10th among all relievers in WAR over the past four years. Now that he won’t be headed to Boston, Madson’s possible destinations — and bargaining power — are limited further. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has gone on record as saying the free agent relief market has gone coo coo for Cocoa Puffs, but maybe he’d be interested in adding an elite closer option at a less insane price.

Who’s in right field for Boston?

Reddick was expected to compete with Ryan Kalish, among others, for playing time in right field next season. Now, Boston’s RF picture is even more cloudy. Coliseum or not, Sweeney has shown next to no pop (a career .392 slugging percentage and a .ISO). It’s possible that Boston likes his strong outfield D enough to give him the bulk of the playing time against right-handers while Kalish, a higher-upside player with speed, patience and power, gets Triple-A at-bats to make up for a 2011 season lost to shoulder and neck injuries.

Josh Reddick gets to play

Reddick figures to start most nights for the A’s in right field in 2012. The change in venues won’t help his value, but he did manage a 105 wRC+ with good power in 278 plate appearances with the Sox last year and showed better plate discipline in both the majors and at Triple-A after previously being a total hacker. It’s still hard to get really excited about the 25-year-old, as Bill James had a .249/.312/.457 forecast before Reddick was sent West to less hospitable home digs.