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In a surprising move, manager Bobby Valentine has named Alfredo Aceves the replacement closer for the Boston Red Sox.
With expected closer Andrew Bailey out for 3-4 months after surgery on his injured thumb, Aceves takes over the closer role despite very little experience closing games. For his career, Aceves has just four saves under his belt, which includes the two he had last year with the Red Sox. Valentine cited his competitive nature, his performance during spring training, and his familiarity with the AL East as the primary reasons Aceves would be the closer.
Valentine named Aceves over set-up man Mark Melancon, who closed for the Houston Astros before the Red Sox acquired him for Jed Lowrie. With 20 saves in 24 save chances last season, Melancon seemed to be the more natural option to fill in until Bailey’s return with his experience closing. Instead, Melancon will get opportunities to close games when Aceves is not available.
While Valentine did list his reasons for crowning Aceves as the closer, part of me remains skeptical that this decision makes the most baseball sense or was made based purely for baseball reasons. Red Sox fans will recall how invaluable Aceves was last year in saving the starters by pitching lights out as a stopper in relief and keeping the Sox in close games. This was especially true with runners on base.
So, rather than limiting Aceves to coming in for the final inning with the Red Sox ahead, Valentine could have used Aceves in high leverage situations, no matter the inning and for longer appearances. (Valentine did say he would be open to using Aceves to get more than three outs.) Melancon closing would seem to allow Valentine to use Aceves in a more flexible role much like last year. In fact, the lack of flexibility in the bullpen seems to have forced Valentine to open the season with 13 pitchers on the roster.
Instead, perhaps the move was mostly made to appease Aceves after he was denied the opportunity to start. Aceves came into spring training to compete for one of the spots open in the Red Sox starting rotation, and he was extremely disappointed and upset when Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront became the fourth and fifth starters while he was relegated to the bullpen. After all, being named the closer — with your own entrance music, a brighter spotlight, and a chance at a heftier paycheck in the future — is a pretty satisfactory alternative to taking the ball every fifth day.
Whether surprising, conspiring, or none of the above, hopefully the move benefits the team as much as it does Aceves.