Daniel Bard’s career hasn’t taken the path that most expected it would after we saw what kind of pitcher he was early on. This time a year ago the Red Sox were finally moving past a failed effort to convert Bard into a starting pitcher, a role he’d filled in college and during his first professional season in 2007. Those efforts didn’t work, leaving many to believe that the failures have stuck with Bard – affecting his confidence and command ever since.
Fast forward a year and Bard is slumping in 13 appearances with Double-A Portland. He’s got a 6.39 ERA, 2.368 WHIP, and a staggering 12.1 BB/9. Now he sits on the DL due to an abdominal strain. Buried in his latest column, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe touched on the question of what should the Red Sox do with Bard at this point:
We asked Sox GM Ben Cherington last week whether a change of scenery would be the best thing for Bard. Cherington said his staff continues to do everything it can to get through to Bard, who is now dealing with an abdominal strain, but whose bigger issue seems to be mental, an inability to throw strikes. “If you’re the Red Sox, you just don’t want to give up because he’s such a talent, but there will come a point where you’ve exhausted everything and then for everyone’s sake you move on,” said a National League GM. “I can’t say if the Red Sox should be there right now, but I do know there’d be a lot of teams lined up to get an arm like that in hopes that a new beginning is what sparks a new outlook.
Bard will still have two years of team control left following the conclusion of the 2013 season and will face upcoming raises through arbitration. Fortunately for Boston, those raises are largely predicated on a player’s performance on the field which would suggest that Bard will not be seeing his salary escalate quickly this winter. He’s earning just over $1.8 Million this season. He’s still affordable enough to take a chance on him figuring things out, provided they have the space available on their 40-man roster. There’s almost no chance that Bard would pass through waivers unclaimed if the team were to consider removing him from their extended roster.
Dealing Bard could certainly be a possibility for the Red Sox. When “right”, Bard was establishing himself as a valued member of the Boston bullpen under manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell from 2009 through 2011. He’d post a 2.88 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, and 9.7 K/9 over 197.0 IP in that span, twice topping 70 appearances in a single season. Bard had been so reliable that there was a good portion of the team’s fan base that hoped he’d be given an opportunity to replace departing closer Jonathan Papelbon after that 2011 season. That offseason saw a lot of change in Boston. Francona was forced out. In came Bobby Valentine and the organization revisits an idea to have Bard start. Plans went off track from there.
Given the potential he’s shown as a late-inning reliever and relative low cost for the next two-plus seasons there would certainly be plenty of interest should Boston make him available on the open market. Farrell was around during the start of Bard’s finest stretch in Boston but beyond their time together in Spring Training he’s had limited time to directly oversee the team’s efforts to turn things around again. Farrell’s had some influence in the process, of course, but the direct oversight that he’d able to have if Bard weren’t struggling so much on the mound could potentially do even more to get him “right” again.
Once Bard returns to the mound, if he can start to regain his confidence and find some positive results on the mound then he just might be able to make his way back to a Major League bullpen – either with Farrell in Boston or elsewhere if the team is willing to part with him. If they do look to move him, it’s tough to gauge what kind of return they’d be looking at. In this case, it could work to their benefit that there will likely be multiple suitors.