As the Boston Red Sox search for a closer while holding on to first place, the team can go in several directions.
Trades are always inviting, though Boston’s recent trades for closers haven’t worked out so well.
Consider the stats of some of those relievers before they were acquired.
How about a 31-year-old with 16 saves, a 2.16 ERA and a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of 1.05 in 331/3 innings.
Then there’s the 30-year-old with 167 saves in five years.
Or the 27-year-old who had 20 saves in 25 chances the previous season.
Maybe the 26-year-old who converted 24 of 26 saves the year before coming to Boston.
Finally, we know a right-hander who was 31 of 34 in save opportunities with his last team.
Who were those relievers?
• Eric Gagne. Acquired from the Rangers in 2007, he allowed 26 hits in 18-2/3 innings and recorded a 6.75 ERA with the Red Sox. He was left off the playoff roster.
• Bobby Jenks. Signed as a free agent, to a two-year, $12 million deal before the 2011 season. He appeared in 19 games (6.32 ERA), his career shortened by injuries.
• Mark Melancon. Obtained before the 2012 season after recording 20 saves in 2011 for Houston. He had a 6.20 ERA with Boston, was demoted, and finally traded after the season to Pittsburgh (where, by the way, he is flourishing with a 0.99 ERA).
• Andrew Bailey. Also acquired before last year, he hasn’t been able to hold onto the closer’s job, whether because of injury or ineffectiveness. After blowing three games in 11 days, Bailey is being taken out of the closer’s role, at least for now.
• Joel Hanrahan. Acquired over the winter from Pittsburgh in a deal that involved Melancon, Hanrahan appeared in only nine games and recorded four saves before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery.
With that glorious history of transactions, which relievers should Boston aim for now?
Two names stand out: Jonathan Papelbon and Jesse Crain.
Papelbon, 32, might be the people’s favorite. After closing games for Boston from 2006 to 2011, he signed a four-year, $50 million deal with Philadelphia (with a vesting option for 2016). With the Phillies struggling, they might unload some salary. But Phillies management has said it will not trade Papelbon.
While Papelbon would bring back championship memories to Boston fans, there are no guarantees. Both the 2009 playoffs and 2011 season ended with blown saves by Papelbon.
Crain, who turns 32 on July 5, is intriguing because of his statistics with the White Sox (0.55 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 43 strikeouts, nine walks in 32-2/3 innings). He’s in the final year of his contract with Chicago, and the last-place White Sox are going nowhere in the AL Central. He seems prime trade bait.
Crain is not likely to come cheap. The White Sox know any number of contending teams will want a lights-out reliever who might mean the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
One other interesting fact about Crain is that he is a set-up man who has only four career saves and has never been given an opportunity to close games. He also has never put up the numbers he is posting this season, though he’s been an effective reliever throughout his career (3.05 career ERA).
Of course, Boston does not have to trade. The Red Sox could find the answer internally, which is what they are doing for now while they figure out if Bailey can regain his form.
Koji Uehara, 38, is the temporary closer. He has done the job before — 13 of 15 with Baltimore in 2010. And he has pitched well enough this year (2.10 ERA, 0.87 WHIP).
Junichi Tazawa might also be a candidate. He has shown the stuff and fortitude to be able to grow into the role.
In Pawtucket, Rubby De La Rosa is showcasing a high 90s fastball and a nice change-up, with a 1.85 ERA as a starter, through Friday. Power-arm starters can become dominant relievers, like Papelbon did when he moved into the Red Sox bullpen in 2005.
Another possibility is Ryan Rowland-Smith, 30, a former Mariners pitchers. He has a 0.86 ERA in 24 games (41-2/3 innings) with Triple-A Pawtucket.
So Boston has options. Bailey might revitalize his career. Uehara (or a tag-team of Uehara and Tazawa) may work out. Pawtucket could send help.
Or Boston could make a trade, which brings to mind two words:
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: