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Can New Red Sox Reliever Burke Badenhop Buck the Trend of NL Central Flops?

The Red Sox traded for Brewers reliever Burke Badenhop, but will he be able to make the cut in the AL East instead of the NL Central? At least he seems to have the beard going for him... (Photo courtesy of the Boston Herald)

As an encore to their 2013 World Series title, the Boston Red Sox kicked off the 2014 offseason by acquiring…middle relief pitcher Burke Badenhop. Not exactly the most awe-inspiring move to start your title defense, now, is it?

The Red Sox shipped out a no-name minor leaguer (left-hander Luis Ortega — apologies if any of his relatives are reading) for no-name major leaguer Burke Badenhop, a right-handed reliever who pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers last year.

The 30-year-old Badenhop, entering his seventh season in the majors, made 63 appearances last season and finished with a 3.47 ERA, 42 strikeouts, and 12 walks in 62.1 innings. Those numbers are fine, of course — not outstanding, but decent — but it begs the question: did GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox learn absolutely nothing from trading for unmitigated disasters and fellow NL Central relievers Mark Melancon and Joel Hanrahan?

Melancon was acquired after the 2011 season (a.k.a. “The Disaster”) from the Houston Astros to serve as the primary setup man for newly acquired closer Andrew Bailey. (Bailey provides an even more expanded lesson to Red Sox executives in trading for bullpen arms: instead of just “Don’t trade for NL Central relievers,” Bailey could give a PhD lecture on “Don’t trade for relievers. Period.”) In case you don’t remember, Melancon didn’t do much to help the Red Sox move on from the disastrous end to 2011. One year removed from recording 20 saves with the Astros, Melancon gave up runs in each of his first four appearances, including two losses after entering with a lead and culminating in his total disintegration on April 17th: six runs on four hits, including three home runs, and zero outs recorded.

At that point, Melancon was demoted to the minors with a 49.50 ERA, which is exactly where you want your eighth inning reliever. He managed to return and ultimately lower his ERA to a respectable* 6.20 (*it’s all relative, right?). Despite the Theory of Relativity, Melancon still ended up being shipped out after the season as part of a trade package for — guess who? — Joel Hanrahan.

Hanrahan, of course, came over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, where his 76 saves and two All-Star berths from 2011-12 were (supposedly) sufficient credentials to take over as the new Red Sox closer for 2013. It’s easy to forget in light of Koji Uehara‘s video game season — oh, and the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series (nope, still hasn’t gotten old) — but Hanrahan quickly joined Melancon on the list of failed trades. Before blowing out his UCL and undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery, Hanrahan allowed ten hits, six walks, and eight earned runs (including four home runs) in just 7.1 innings. Of his four saves, none of them were of the clean “1-2-3″ variety. I don’t even need to list his ERA for those totals to register as abysmal (9.82, for the record).

His defining moment in a Red Sox uniform, though, was when he entered an April 10th game against the Baltimore Orioles in the top of the ninth with a two-run lead. Hanrahan promptly gave up a home run to Chris David (5-4, Red Sox), retired the next two batters, then imploded, giving up a single, handing out two free passes, uncorking a wild pitch (5-5), then serving up a meatball to Manny Machado for a three-run home run (8-5, Orioles). Now he’s a free agent looking for a team not called the Boston Red Sox to take a flyer on him.

Now, for the third consecutive offseason, the Red Sox have again traded for a reliever out of the NL Central. Enter Badenhop, who will try to prove the adage “the third time’s the charm.” Badenhop at least has one year of AL East experience under his belt pitching for Tampa Bay (he also pitched for the now Miami Marlins from 2008-2011). In 2012 with the Rays, Badenhop put up almost identical numbers as with the Brewers, pitching precisely the same number of innings (62.1), striking out exactly the same number of batters (42), issuing an identical number of unintentional walks (12), and allowing the  same amount of home runs (6). The only difference was that he allowed a handful of fewer runs (21 earned runs in 2012 vs. 24 ER in 2013), for a 3.03 ERA.

Add in whatever unquantifiable magic manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves can work, and there is a modicum of hope that Badenhop could give Boston some valuable innings in relief next season. (He also is already rocking a full beard, which, if Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, and David Ross are any indication, can’t hurt.) Based on my experience watching Red Sox relievers arrive from the NL Central each of the past two years, however, don’t expect me to hold my breath waiting for Badenhop to become a key cog in the Boston bullpen.

About Nick Bohlen - @ndbohlen

Nick is an editor and regular contributor for the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox sections of SoB. (Despite growing up in Vermont, just a short drive from Canada, hockey never really caught on with him.) Follow him on twitter: @ndbohlen

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