BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who was drawn into the discussion of the Red Sox closer situation Wednesday afternoon, said that while he is confident that Andrew Bailey will regain his form, the Sox would be open to other options, whether they come from within or in a trade.
Cherington, who met with reporters in the Sox dugout Wednesday afternoon, ostensibly to talk about the signing of top draft choice Trey Ball, said that the Sox are not engaged in trade discussions with any club at this time, but acknowledged that it is not too early in the trade season for teams to explore potential deals.
“You have to stay open to any way to improve the team and balance the short and long term," Cherington said. “We have a number of guys in our system who we believe will be sought after by other teams and have value for other teams. We just have to see. The key is trying to make the right calls on the guys you have, hold onto the core guys as much as you possibly can but be open-minded.
“The long-term objective is the same, to build something that sustains itself over a long period of time. To do that, you can’t close your mind to every trade and keep all the young players. You can’t do the opposite, either. You can’t jump at every trade opportunity you have. It’s got to be some combination, some balance. That’s our challenge, to pick the right opportunities.’’
Cherington had identified the back end of the bullpen as a potential problem last winter, which spurred his trade for Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan. But Hanrahan went down with a bad elbow, undergoing Tommy John reconstructive surgery that sidelined him for the season.
“The Hanrahan acquisition, we were trying to add on as many options as we could and strengthen the entire pen, not just the ninth inning," said Cherington, who had declared Hanrahan the team’s closer on the day he was acquired. “And obviously, unfortunately for Joel and for us, it didn’t work out because he got hurt.
“We’re very thankful we have the other guys to step in and move back an inning, so to speak. And overall the guys have done a good job. Obviously Andrew’s had a couple tough outings here recently, [but] if you look at the total body of work and his performance over the course of the season, he’s still having a very solid year.
“Every player goes through slumps, and when your outfielder goes through a slump and he’s 0 for five days, nobody really notices. When it’s the closer, it gets more attention. So he’s going through that and we’re confident he’ll get back on track and start closing out games again. And certainly no one is working harder at that than he is."
Cherington praised the work done by the Sox bullpen collectively, citing it as a major reason for the team’s success to date.
“[But] you can’t ever be complacent when it comes to pitching," he said. “We have to keep our eyes open to what’s going on, and we think we have some internal options if needed, perhaps a little better situated there than we have been in the last year or two. But it’s something that as the season goes on... if there are ways to get better, we’ll consider those."
One internal option mentioned by Cherington, in response to a question, was left-hander Andrew Miller, who has 43 strikeouts in 26 innings, and is averaging 14.9 K’s per nine innings. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of Miller’s performance is the way he has dominated right-handed hitters, who are batting just .149 (7 for 47) against him.
“He certainly has that kind of stuff," Cherington said. “He hasn’t been in the role yet but he certainly is that kind of guy. The confidence is growing, you see him out there executing and getting right-handers out as much as getting left-handers out and all those things, so he certainly has the attributes to pitch at any point in the game.
“I think a lot is made of the ninth inning; we understand why. The last three outs of the game, I’m not trying to diminish the importance of those outs, but we need to get hitters out from the time the starter leaves to the last out of the game, so we need as many effective pitchers as possible to give John as many options as possible.”