Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has done a bang up job strengthening his team this offseason, and I’m not just talking about the Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford pickups. He’s remade one of the game’s least effective bullpens in part by picking up righty killer Dan Wheeler and former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks as free agents. In winter that has seen three-year contracts handed out to relievers like candy, the Sox got Jenks and Wheeler for three contract years combined. What does this mean for saves in Boston?
Obviously, Jonathan Papelbon will begin the season as the closer the same way he has for the last four years, the team has acknowledged as much. But given the nature of the beast, there will be rumblings about a switch in the ninth inning should Paps blow two saves in as many chances or struggle for a week or two, the Boston media will make sure of it. Whether or not the team makes the change is another thing all together, but the Sox have been keeping Papelbon at arm’s length this winter, reportedly listening to offers for the righty, who will not coincidentally become a free agent after the season.
That’s where Jenks fits in. Even with Daniel Bard on board, Jenks will be first in line for save opportunities should anything happen with Papelbon simply because he’s got the proven closer tag. He’s been there, done that, and that can be comforting to manager (and on occasion, a fan base). The Red Sox could also pull a Nomar, trading Papelbon at the deadline for help at another spot or two on their roster. It’s a little far-fetched, but stranger things have happened. Moral of the story, there’s plenty of scenarios that could see Jenks closing games for the Red Sox come the summer
And the beauty of this is that even if Papelbon keeps his job all season long, Jenks is one of the few setup men worth carrying in a standard 5×5 mixed league (so is Bard). The strikeouts will be there and both his WHIP and ERA should be solid with a return to BABIP normalcy, a pretty good bet considering the defense behind him. He’ll also vulture some wins working the middle innings, and he’s always a phone call away from save chances. Jenks could easily provide more value as a late round pick than some closers on non-contenders, who have almost no job security to speak of.