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On the last day of the 2009 Winter Meetings, the Boston Red Sox acquired Boof Bonser from the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named later or cash. With a career 5.12 ERA and 1.45 WHIP over his 391.2 major league innings, it is clear why Bonser was deemed expendable in the Twins’ efforts to retain Carl Pavano, who accepted arbitration. Bonser may end up as little more than minor league filler, but the big righty will have to overcome more than labrum and rotator cuff surgery to prove himself useful in Boston.
Born John Paul Bonser in 1981, he legally had his name changed to childhood nickname “Boof” in 2001. Acquired by the Minnesota Twins in the deal that sent A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants in exchange for Bonser, Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano, Boof put up solid numbers in the minor leagues compiling a 3.72 ERA with a 1.32 WHIP and 2.29 strikeout to walk ratio in 799 innings through 2005. After a solid start to the 2006 season Bonser was called up to the majors on May 21, 2006 and put together a good rookie year (4.42 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.5 K:BB) earning himself the start in ALDS Game 2 against the Oakland As.
While Boof had a good major league debut, he has not followed up on that promise, struggling in 2007 and 2008 and missing all of 2009 after undergoing surgery for his labrum and rotator cuff. Shifting to the bullpen in 2008 did not help his struggles. Batters hit .319/.366/.513/.879 against Bonser as a reliever; however, in this small sample, his strikeouts per nine and strikeout to walk ratio both increased, providing some signs of potential. As a word of caution, lefties have hit Bonser very hard, to the tune of .316/.375/.516/.891 versus righties hitting just .247/.296/.404/.699.
When Baseball America ranked Bonser the Twins’ 25th best prospect it was still respecting “a ceiling as a back-of-the-rotation starter” who could reach into the low 90s and succeed by changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance. If healthy, Bonser could be an option out of the pen to face right-handers, or as a spot starter should the need arise.
Overall, for the price, the Red Sox have a guy with a few years of experience, a major flaw (lefties), and some recent injury trouble, who could fill out the rotation in Pawtucket or lend a hand in Boston with some chance of upside. For what it’s worth, Bronson Arroyo’s 2005 included a 4.51 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP, 1.85 K:BB ratio and 100 strikeouts in just over 200 innings. Could Bonser put up similar numbers given the chance? Possibly. As we saw last year with John Smoltz and Brad Penny, don’t ever underestimate the importance of solid back of the rotation guys, which Bonser still has a chance to be.