The reconstruction of the Boston Red Sox continues. One week after adding high-profile, big-money players at first base (Adrian Gonzalez) and in left field (Carl Crawford), the Sox quietly have addressed their biggest weakness of last season.

Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler aren’t the type of names that will cause a stampede in the preseason ticket line at Yawkey Way. Yet they could well be the difference between the Red Sox winning the 2011 American League East title and missing the playoffs for the second straight year.

It’s no secret the Sox bullpen was abysmal last season. It posted the worst ERA in the league (4.24), gave up the most home runs in the majors (63) and took the loss in 23 games.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon had the worst season of his career, and once dependable setup men Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen were jettisoned to the National League.

Now, the bullpen is being rebuilt with arms that have shouldered the load in the AL. Jenks is a particularly brilliant addition to the pitching staff. He has been a full-time closer for the past five years, posting 27 or more saves in each of those seasons with Chicago. He’s used to facing AL lineups and can handle the big-city media.

Along with Daniel Bard, Jenks will give the Red Sox a couple of strong right-handers to get to Papelbon. Jenks also gives the team the option of trading Papelbon (and his salary, which will likely be more than $11 million next season) now or at the trade deadline in July if the right deal comes along.

Or, more likely, it gives the Sox another closing option beyond 2011 if Bard is not ready to move into that role when Papelbon becomes a free agent at the end of next season. Just like that, the 29-year-old Jenks has become one of the most important and versatile pitchers on the Boston staff.

Less will be expected of Wheeler, a Rhode Island native, but he could be another very important part of this team. He has averaged 70 appearances over the last six seasons and made it to two World Series.

The Sox came into this offseason needing added pop in the lineup, and they took care of that early. The bullpen needs were even greater, and General Manager Theo Epstein has addressed them despite losing out on pitchers like Scott Downs and Matt Guerrier.

Left-handed relief could still be an issue. Andrew Miller and Rich Hill have been signed, but neither is a sure thing at this point in his career. Epstein will remain on the lookout for someone to fill the void left by Hideki Okajima, who was an All-Star in 2007 but ineffective by 2010.

Bullpen construction is an inexact art, to say the least. Each year, big league teams round up as many arms as they can in the hopes some will step up and deliver.

The Sox have done that as well, adding Matt Albers, Lenny DiNardo, Randy Williams and others to the roster. Two or three may stick. Most will go to Triple-A Pawtucket, waiting for a call.

A team that relies too heavily on these players is doomed to failure. The Red Sox will not be in that position. With the additions of Jenks and Wheeler — and the return of Papelbon and Bard, the Sox now are putting the finishing touches on a bullpen that will have a different look in 2011. The Sox are hoping for a different performance, too.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.