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Red Sox Hot Stove Report 
Relievers, December 18, 2010

The Red Sox are stockpiling in the arms race, as they just added a former enemy, Dan Wheeler of the Rays, to the Red Sox bullpen. He was given a one-year $3 million dollar contract, and the Sox add another weapon to a vastly improved bullpen from last year, at least on paper. If Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon can return to their former effective selves, it will be a much happier, and less nerve-wracking summer for the bleacher bums at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox have been burned several times when they signed relievers to contracts longer than one year, among them Keith Foulke and Julian Tavarez. While Foulke was great in the regular season of 2004, and didn't surrender a run until the last game of the World Series, he went through two surgeries that off-season and was never the same. The rubber-armed Tavarez was never really effective, coming over from the National League where ERAs are about a run lower because of the pitcher having to hit, but he did give the Red Sox flexibility in being able to start and relieve whenever he was needed.

Another reliever who had a great season and then petered out after that in, recent memory at least, was Rich Garces. Deemed "El Guapo," a bad guy from the comedy the "Three Amigos" by the Fenway Faithful, the hefty pitcher had an amazing season in relief in 2000, then reality and his weight problems sank in, and he would never pitch as well and was out of the majors in two years.

Theo Epstein, learning from his past mistakes in dealing with relief pitchers, most certainly knows that bullpens are a rowdy and unpredictable crew, and one season's worth of effective work from an effective bullpen does not mean anything when it comes to predicting what will happen the next year. It is not even the money delved out in each multi-year contract handed out to a reliever, but the years that are tacked on to each one. If a flame-throwing reliever has a lights-out season, but then suddenly can't hit the broadside of a barn in April, then the team is not only taking a hit in the salary department, but also in the human resources department, as he is taking up a roster spot that some younger, better minor-leaguer could be filling at a much cheaper price.

The problem with gauging the longevity of a bullpen star is tricky because the bullpen is full of pitchers who almost always started out as projected starters, then because of durability or control issues were banished to the pen. Keeping the multi-year deals to starting pitchers and position players is a shrewd move, and it will pay off for the Red Sox to be stingy in dealing with relief pitchers, lest they have another Rudy Seanez or Ramiro Mendoza on their hands. Both had great seasons with another team, then turned into pumpkins when they put on a Sox Uniform.

— Roman Llimar

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