Jenks makes Red Sox a lot more formidable
Infield, outfield, bullpen -- the winter solstice has not yet arrived, but the Boston Red Sox have already made impact additions in three areas.
The additions of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford were indisputably positive, adding -- between the two players -- power, speed and defense. The latest addition may be more open to debate; a pitcher coming off a substandard season, but still a pitcher with a significant track record.
Pending the results of a physical, the Red Sox have signed reliever Bobby Jenks to a two-year, $12 million contract. That isn't in the same neighborhood as the deals Gonzalez and Crawford received, but it is still a substantial commitment for a reliever.
Jenks is an interesting case, because he is coming off a year in which he had a career-worst 4.44 ERA and missed the last 27 games of the season due to ulnar neuritis in his right arm. He earned $7.5 million in 2010, and his latest employers, the White Sox, did not tender him a contract.
Thus, Jenks had pitched his way out of the White Sox's plans. But apart from last season, he has had an impressive career as a closer. He is not at an age where a decline is irreversible -- he turns 30 in March. And his secondary numbers were still fine in 2010. His 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings represented the second-best mark of his career.
When healthy, Jenks' stuff was still intact. He is a power pitcher, who is not suffering from a dramatic loss of velocity. It is obvious that the Red Sox, in signing Jenks, are looking at the worth of his entire career, not simply his work in 2010.
The incumbent Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who just turned 30, is also coming off the worst statistical season of his career. It could be argued that the Red Sox are accumulating hard-throwing right-handers relievers who are headed downhill. But if you assume a return to form by Papelbon and Jenks and factor in the work of Daniel Bard, you're looking at a truly imposing late-inning trio.
Plus, Jenks back in form would give the Red Sox an additional closer option. Papelbon is under contract for one more season with Boston. If Jenks is whole, he could eventually make Papelbon expendable.
All of this requires the belief that 2010 was an aberration, not the beginning of a trend, for Jenks. He was indisputably a top-tier closer from the time he took over the role late in his rookie season of 2005. He helped the White Sox to a World Series championship that year, in a postseason in which they went 11-1 and Jenks recorded four saves. He converted 88.8 percent of his save opportunities over the next three seasons. In '07, he set what was then a Major League record, retiring 41 consecutive batters.
So this is not an insignificant career. It is just a career that was far from its peak in 2010. Jenks, at the top of his game, would be a true impact addition for the Red Sox, giving them added bullpen quality, depth and flexibility.
Based on that assumption, the Red Sox's offseason continues to be a remarkable performance. A trade for a terrific all-around player in Gonzalez, whose opposite-field power should be ideal in Fenway Park. A signing of the leading available free-agent outfielder, Crawford, whose game has grown in recent seasons and whose speed can alter the course of a game. And now a signing of a pitcher, Jenks, with a substantial record of late-inning success.
No, this is not like signing Mariano Rivera, because no other reliever is Rivera and the White Sox are not the Yankees. But it is a plausible attempt to improve the bullpen from a club that is having one of the best winters in baseball, even before winter has officially started.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.