Red Sox continue 'pen upgrade with Wheeler
Native New Englander excited to join Boston's relief corps
BOSTON -- The revamping of the Red Sox's bullpen continued on Saturday, as the club signed veteran right-hander Dan Wheeler, a native Rhode Islander who now gets to play for the team he rooted for as a kid. The one-year deal includes a club option for 2012.
"I'm very excited," Wheeler said by phone early Saturday afternoon. "I guess there's always been a little part of me that's always wanted to wear the Red Sox uniform, there's no question about that. The first goal was to make it [to the Majors], now that I'm going to have a chance to put that actual uniform on, I'm real excited about it."
Wheeler grew up in Warwick, R.I., and graduated from Pilgrim High School before being drafted by Tampa Bay in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft.
The righty, who made $3.5 million last season, began his career with the Rays in 1999. He went on to play for the Mets and Astros before returning to Tampa Bay in 2007.
Wheeler, 33, has been a solid setup man for the past three seasons with the Rays, going 2-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 64 games in 2010. In '09, he went 4-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 69 games. And when Tampa Bay beat the Red Sox in both the American League East and the ALCS in '08, Wheeler was a key part of that run, posting a 3.12 ERA in 70 regular-season games.
"I think it will be a little weird, especially when we play the Rays," Wheeler said. "I think that's part of the job. There's always something -- you always have to go back. At least for me, I've had to go back and play former teams and you realize real quick that those guys are on the other team now. You have some great friends, but you've got to do your job and that's get them out."
One of those friends is joining Wheeler in Boston, as the Sox inked star outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million pact one week ago.
"Carl is a dynamic player," Wheeler said. "There's just so much that he can do on a baseball field. Not just producing runs, but I always as a pitcher love how he takes runs away. I think the Boston fans are in for a real treat. I know they've watched him play for so many years in a Rays uniform, but I think they're probably very excited to see him in a Red sox uniform. I know I am. Now that I'm a Red Sox, I really like having him behind me again."
The agreement with Wheeler came just two days after Boston came to terms on a two-year, $12 million contract with former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. That deal is expected to be formally announced early next week.
The bullpen was the weak spot of Boston's 2010 team, but Epstein has added Jenks, Wheeler and Matt Albers to go along with Daniel Bard and closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"I think, just the additions that we have, I think it's going to really help and hopefully make us stronger at the end," Wheeler said. "The bullpen that we have right now, I feel like we're pretty deep and I think we have some guys who can go out there and make some key pitches in key situations, and I think that will make us that much better towards the end of the year, and that's what we're ultimately playing for -- to be at our best in October."
It has been an exciting offseason for the Red Sox, who also acquired Adrian Gonzalez's big bat in a blockbuster trade with the Padres.
"I'm real excited just about the team we're going to have, and all the moves that we've made this year to really give us a great shot to win next year," Wheeler said.
In 2011, Wheeler will be able to refer to Fenway Park as his home office.
"I was playing a lot of my own games, but I probably went once or twice a year when I was a kid," said Wheeler. "Every time I did go, I enjoyed it. I always say, that's still my favorite ballpark. I guess I'm a little biased growing up in the area, but there's nothing like going to Fenway."