A case for Daniel Bard as next Sox closer

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard is considered one of the best relievers in the game, but there's nothing sexy about being the eighth-inning setup man.

He's dominated that role since making his big league debut in May 2009, but things could change now that free-agent closer Jonathan Papelbon is set to switch teams and leagues, having agreed to a four-year deal worth $50 million with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Bard could be the new closer in Boston.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said Friday that he's not ready to commit Bard to that role just yet, but the two have had several conversations during the offseason. And once the Red Sox name a manager and pitching coach, the club will revisit the closer's job.

"I think Daniel would embrace more responsibility," Cherington said. "Daniel's one of the most prepared and conscientious guys we have in that clubhouse. He's proven he's an elite major league pitcher ... and he's ready for more responsibility."

The hard-throwing right-hander should be the next closer for the Red Sox. He has the ability to dominate that role in similar fashion as Papelbon did for six seasons. Bard could even enjoy greater success than Papelbon.

The two are totally different. Papelbon displays his intensity on the mound, while Bard is more subdued on the outside. More important to his success, Bard can unleash his 100 mph fastball and follow it up with a nasty changeup. He wasn't built for the starting rotation. He wasn't built for the eighth inning. Bard's mound presence is perfect to take the ball in the ninth.

"We're not ready to commit to any role for Daniel, or anyone else in the bullpen, but he's certainly ready for more responsibility if given to him," Cherington said.

Bard leads the American League and ranks third in the majors with 79 holds in 192 appearances during his three big league seasons. During that span he ranks fourth among AL relievers in strikeouts with 213 and has held opponents to a .190 batting average, which ranks sixth in the league.

Last summer he set a Red Sox record with 25 consecutive outings without allowing a run from May 27 to July 31, posting a career-best 26 1/3 scoreless innings in a row. Bard, however, struggled badly in September. He was 0-4 with a 10.64 ERA (13 earned runs in 11 innings) in the month.

The 26-year-old pitcher began his pro career as a starter in 2007 at the Class A level. The Red Sox, however, decided to move him to the bullpen and make him a closer in 2008, and it was a role he quickly began to have success with at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Once he was promoted to the big league on May 10, 2009, he found himself behind one of the best closers in the game, so Bard began to take the ball in the later innings and handed it off to Papelbon.

Now that Papelbon is gone, it's time for Bard to assume that role.

"It's one that we need to spend a little more time on," Cherington said. "Bard is one we need to spend a little more time on. We would like to get a manager and pitching coach in place and talk to them about it, and certainly talk to Daniel again before we'd make a decision on that."

Bard expressed interest last season for a possible role change in 2012 and beyond, saying he would consider becoming a starter again, but now that there's an opening due to Papelbon's departure, there's no need for Cherington to look anywhere else for the next closer in Boston. Bard is already here, and has been waiting for this opportunity.