The Red Sox have found their closer in Andrew Bailey, but he came from the notorious Billy Beane. How did the Sox make out in their biggest offseason trade to date?
Facing a difficult situation financially, Ben Cherington has come through with flying colors. With Jonathan Papelbon leaving via free agency, and Daniel Bard seemingly on his way to the starting rotation, the bullpen was in need of serious rebuilding. First came Marc Melancon, in from the Astros in exchange for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. A solid addition who could provide some legitimacy at the back end of the pen, and had a little experience saving games to boot.
Still, though, the general feeling was that Melancon was not going to be the answer at closer, and so the Sox turned to Andrew Bailey--about as good an option as can be found shy of dropping eight digits on Jonathan Papelbon or Ryan Madson. A veteran of three seasons, Bailey has a career 2.07 ERA in 174 innings to go with an 8.86 K/9 and 2.59 BB/9. He's racked up 75 saves with Oakland--not bad for a team that so rarely heads to the ninth with a lead.
These numbers are all well and good, but as per usual, trades with Oakland come with a couple red flags.
The first is his health. Bailey has only had one full season, missing time in each of the last two years with some health issues. Of course, the last thing you want to hear with the Red Sox is anything to do with injury, but for what it's worth Bailey seems to be the healthiest he's been in a while, and the team has a new staff of doctors who will be checking him out.
The second is the transition from the Coliseum to Fenway, and indeed, such a transition could spell disaster for some pitchers, especially those who five up as many fly balls as Bailey. That being said, however, there's no reason that Bailey can't be nearly as good in Boston as he was in Oakland. His success in the Coliseum, after all, is not attributable nearly as much to a lower rate of home runs (about four percent of his fly balls in Oakland leave the park compared to about six percent on the road--a relatively big difference, but both figures are very low, and relievers are said to be able to control this better than starters), but to a massive 5.58 K:BB ratio.
The worrying thing is that this figure dips significantly when he's on the road. It's possible that this is just a guy who plays better at home, but it could also be a matter of confidence when the outfield is quite so forgiving. Still, the fact of the matter is that he has it in him to be the pitcher he is in Oakland no matter where he pitches if he sticks with the same style of attacking batters and getting ahead in the count. If the Sox can push him in the right direction, a 10.45 K/9 and 1.87 BB/9 could work in a Little League park.
So what did the Sox end up surrendering to Oakland for Andrew Bailey? Not a whole lot, actually. While Billy Beane is notorious for winning trades (see: Gonzalez, Gio), it's hard to see this as a bad trade for Boston. Josh Reddick could pan out to take full advantage of his speed in the outfield and his power at the plate, but as major league pitchers adapted to him last year he fell back into his old bad habits swinging outside of the zone and failing to put the bat on the ball. Like Jed Lowrie before him, he had big upside, but was a massive gamble of a roster spot, especially when compared to Andrew Bailey. Ryan Sweeney doesn't necessarily fill that hole on his own, but could be a bigger piece of the puzzle than most will give him credit for.
Also included were two minor leaguers in Miles Head and Raul Alcantara, neither of whom we are that likely to hear from again. Both are serviceable prospects, with Alcantara being an especially interesting arm. The thing is that both are lottery tickets three-or-more years away from having any possibility of being cashed. Head has big power potential, but could easily be exposed by advanced pitching, while Alcantara's secondary pitches hasn't pitched above short season Lowell.
Relatively cheap, very effective, and under team control through the end of 2014, Bailey is the perfect answer to one of the biggest question marks the Sox faced this offseason.