Following the 2011 season, Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon inked a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, ending his impressive run as the Sox’ closer after six years, 219 saves, and a 2.33 ERA. As Papelbon’s days in Boston drew to a close, a new flame-throwing bullpen arm emerged, and his name was Daniel Bard. After Papelbon moved on to the City of Brotherly Love, the 26-year-old righty Bard was penciled in as the closer-to-be.
After a dysfunctional 2011 offseason in Boston, which saw the Red Sox hire Bobby Valentine as Bard let it be known that he wanted to be a starter, the plans were put on hold. However, to put it in simple terms, Bard’s 2012 campaign was dismal. The former dominant bullpen presence went 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA, making ten starts and appearing in a total of seventeen games.
After appearing in 16 games with Triple-A Pawtucket and 2 with Boston in 2013, the righty was then designated for assignment and promptly claimed by the Chicago Cubs. Of note, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was the Red Sox General Manager when Boston drafted him 28th overall in 2006 out of the University of North Carolina.
Bard was non-tendered the following offseason and was available via free agency in the winter of 2013. The Texas Rangers signed him to a minor league deal and the former first rounder opened the season with Single-A Hickory, where his career hit rock bottom.
Over four appearances at A-Ball, Bard pitched 0.2 innings, allowing 13 runs, plunking 7 batters and walking 9 others. In two of his games, Bard failed to record an out. The Rangers released Bard on June 19th and he was not signed by any team to end last season.
Although he does not have a deal in place with any organization, Daniel Bard has been adamant about a return to baseball in 2015. Bard recently told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that the shoulder issues that played a role in his demise are now in the past. The key for him now will be the mental part of the game, specifically regaining confidence in his ability to throw strikes.
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What might Bard’s landing spot be? Common knowledge would lead one to believe that at least one club would bring Bard to Spring Training on a minor league contract with an invite to big league spring training. If Bard can channel anything close to his 2011 self, a club may be able to strike a gold mine. When at the top of his game, the right-handed flame thrower touched 100 miles per hour on occasion with his fastball to go along with a devastating slider.
There does not seem to be a great deal of interest in Daniel Bard this offseason, but there is no harm in speculation. Now 29, Bard may be able to put it all back together if he is indeed fully healthy. Imagine a circa-2011 Bard in the eighth inning for the Cincinnati Reds giving way to Aroldis Chapman in the ninth? Could Bard reconnect with the Fenway Faithful? Boston could use a little more relief depth, and Bard could help in that regard.
Is Daniel Bard better suited for a small-market? Maybe A.J. Preller is willing to take a chance on a potential power arm considering he already pulled the trigger on some risky moves this Hot Stove season. A Bard signing would be among the safest of his transactions–while there is no guarantee that Bard can be an effective major league pitcher again, all it will cost a team to sign him is a salary under $1 million that they only have to pay if he makes their big league roster.
Opening Day sits less than four months away, but it remains to be seen whether Daniel Bard will be putting on his spikes for a major league club in April, riding a bus through the countryside in the minors, or sitting in his living room watching Opening Night on ESPN. Time will tell where Bard ends up, and the question will be whether he can recapture his 2009-2011 self and resurrect his career.