Catching up with Andrew Bailey

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey was in the midst of throwing his first bullpen session with his new club and quietly going about his business Saturday morning at JetBlue Park at Fenway South.

A few hours north in Clearwater, Jonathan Papelbon spoke for the first time this spring as the new closer of the Philadelphia Phillies. After spending seven seasons with the Red Sox, Papelbon jumped ship and signed a four-year deal with the Phillies worth $50 million.

The Red Sox needed a closer.

Originally, it was thought that Daniel Bard would become Papelbon's successor. After some discussion between Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, manager Bobby Valentine and Bard, the decision was made that the right-hander would begin spring training as a starter.

So, the Red Sox still needed a closer.

On Dec. 29, 2011, Cherington pulled the trigger on a deal and acquired Bailey, along with outfielder Ryan Sweeney, from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for outfielder Josh Reddick and a pair of minor leaguers.

Bailey had a new job and the Red Sox had their closer.

It didn't take long for the Red Sox and Bailey to come to terms on a one-year deal worth $3.9 million, which is considerably less than the kind of money Papelbon had been earning while playing year-to-year in Boston.

In Clearwater on Saturday, Papelbon praised Bailey and said the new closer would thrive in Boston.

"Andrew has all the talent in the world," Papelbon told reporters.

But this isn't about Papelbon anymore. Sure, he excelled with the Red Sox and became one of the best closers in the game, and Bailey is not going to try to replace Papelbon. Bailey wants to be his own man, his own pitcher and do it his way.

"Pap's obviously himself and I've met him a couple of times," Bailey said. "He's a good dude. He's moved on and we're two totally different pitchers. My goal is to have [the media] ask the guy who follows me those questions: 'How are you going to replace Bailey?' That's my goal and if I stick with that I'm sure I'll be all right."

When he was told that Papelbon believes the new Red Sox closer will thrive in the AL East, Bailey was thankful for the comments.

"He's one of the best in the game and it's an honor coming from him when he says something like that," Bailey said. "He's done it here for a while and he knows what it takes. If he believes in it, I know I can do it and I'm looking at having [Fenway fans] on my side when I'm running out of those gates instead of rooting against me. Coming out of that bullpen is always an adrenaline rush and I'm looking forward to doing it in this uniform."

During his tenure in Boston, Papelbon collected a total of 219 saves. Bailey amassed 75 saves during his three seasons in Oakland, but pitching in the AL East will be completely different for the 27-year-old right-hander. Still, he's ready for that challenge.

"I'm excited to here," Bailey said. "Obviously this is an organization that has a proven history of winning and contending every year. It's nice to be around the guys and get to know them early and I'm looking forward to a good year."

There could be some competition during spring training for the closer's role. Along with Bailey, there's Mark Melancon, and it's possible that Alfredo Aceves and Bard could be in the mix if the starting roles don't work out for them.

"I hope I don't lose it," Bailey said. "I'm a closer at heart, but I'll do anything to help the team win."

After throwing his brief bullpen session on Saturday, Bailey said he feels good and admitted that this is the first time in his pro career that he's been healthy going into spring training, adding this was the first offseason he did not have to rehab any injuries.

"It's good," he said. "I finished strong last year. Obviously I had a little battle and had to miss the first two months last year, but that's behind me and this is honestly the first healthy offseason I've had in the big leagues, so I'm looking forward to that."

He had Tommy John surgery five years ago, but he's fully recovered from that. He dealt with a minor knee issue in 2009 and had a procedure to fix the problem. He also had bone chips removed from his elbow last winter and struggled at the start of the 2011 season. But he was healthy and pitched well down the stretch, and the Red Sox are confident he will perform in Boston.

Because he's been healthy, Bailey was able to begin his offseason throwing program earlier than normal and now that he's arrived in camp, he's not about to change anything.

"I was just excited," Bailey said of his offseason program. "Before the trade, we were trying to plan on going to Tokyo and go play in Japan. I just stayed on the same program I would have been on anyway. That being said, with starting later last year with the elbow cleanup, and missing the first two months, I wanted to make sure I was ready to go. I'd rather slow myself down rather than catch up."

Bailey grew up in New Jersey, went to Wagner College in New York and makes his offseason home in Connecticut. Most of his friends are Yankees fans, but Bailey said he's converting them to Red Sox Nation.

"It's going to be great. Being two hours away from home is just enough to piss you off not to sleep in your own bed at night," he said with a laugh. "It's going to be good. Off-days, day games I can go home and have dinner with the family and kind of hang out."

Papelbon's entrance song, "Shipping up to Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys, became a baseball anthem. Bailey hasn't decided what his entrance song will be, but he does want it to have a Boston theme.

"For me, I like to feed off the crowd and the adrenaline, so if I get to choose it'll probably something rock," he said. "Maybe I'll throw a little Boston twist in there with Aerosmith or something, maybe Godsmack, I don't know."

Papelbon is gone. There's a new closer in Boston, and Bailey is his name.