, Gloucester, MA

March 20, 2013

Time to finish cleaning out bad apples in clubhouse and cut Aceves

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — Alfredo Aceves remains with the Red Sox despite his erratic behavior because of his rubber arm and versatility (he can start, pitch in long relief, setup, close).

Mr. Rubber Arm was in action in September 2011 when the Red Sox were a sinking ship in a race for the playoffs. Aceves pitched four straight days (Sept. 25-28), totaling 7.1 innings and allowing just one run.

Not many relievers can take the ball four straight days and Aceves should be commended for it.

But he also should be condemned for his poor behavior since then.

Aceves has given the Red Sox too many headaches and has put himself before the team too many times recently. GM Ben Cherington should release the right-hander hurler before Aceves has a chance to start more trouble during this upcoming regular season. After all, the righty is not as valuable as the everyone seems to think.

Sure, Aceves does have value. He spent most of last year as the closer, posting a 5.36 ERA and 1.32 WHIP while blowing eight saves. Those numbers aren’t impressive. But he does have a 3.56 career ERA, a decent 4.18 ERA in nine career starts and has held opponents to just a .215 batting average in the seventh through ninth innings.

He also has been almost equally as effective against left-handed batters (.224 batting average in his career) as right-handed batters (.223 BAA). And, of course, he gives the Red Sox innings. There was a stretch in May 2012 when Aceves pitched five times in seven days and another time that same month when he pitched four straight days.

Aceves is what he is though. He is a solid pitcher — not an All-Star and obviously not the next Pedro Martinez. And his behavior often is as peculiar as Manny Ramirez’s used to be. Ramirez got away with it for the most part because he had tremendous ability. He was a World Series MVP.

That said, a replacement easily can be found for a volatile pitcher with a 3.56 ERA in 183 career games. Heck, Clayton Mortensen arguably has equal value and without the drama.

Mortensen has no options remaining so he must make Boston’s 25-man roster out camp to remain with the organization. He had a 3.21 ERA in 26 appearances and 42.0 innings of relief for Boston last year. He has one of the best change-ups on the team, has versatility and likely won’t complain no matter what role the Red Sox use him.

It would be a shame if Cherington let Mortensen go and kept Aceves, who — by going by past history — likely would act out if the Red Sox asked him to be the long reliever.

After all, Aceves was upset he wasn’t a starter when spring training camp broke last year. When he lost the closer role in August, he slammed then-manager Bobby Valentine’s office door shut and was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

He also got in a heated clash with second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the dugout last year. Then in September, when Valentine removed Aceves from a game, Aceves gave the baseball to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia instead of Valentine and walked off the back of the mound to avoid Valentine.

Those are only a few ugly incidents involving Aceves in 2012.

His erratic behavior continued this spring when he began lobbing batting practice one day likely because he was upset the coaching staff changed the time of his session. Then, he was front and center for the brawl between Mexico and Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

The latest incident may not have even been an incident. He hit Tampa’s Sean Rodriguez with a pitch Saturday after Rodriguez had homered in his previous at-bat. The pitch was a splitter so it’s unlikely it was intentional. Aceves said he wasn’t throwing at Rodriguez. But as the two yelled at each other once Rodriguez reached first base, you have to wonder.

With Aceves you always have to wonder — and wait for the next outburst.

The next outburst very well could happen soon if Aceves is asked to begin the regular as the long reliever. And that’s the direction things look to be heading.

Boston has its five starters — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront and John Lackey — in place. It has its closer, Joel Hanrahan, in place. It has an abundance of effective middle relievers/setup men (Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Bard, Andrew Miller) to choose from.

With the starting rotation set and several proven middle relievers/setup men, it only seems reasonable that the Red Sox would ask Aceves to assume the long relief/mop up/spot starter role with Franklin Morales (bulging disc in lower back) out to begin the regular season.

But the Red Sox don’t have to put themselves in a situation to face another possible Aceves blowup. They have options besides Aceves to pitch in lower leverage situations out of the pen. There is Tazawa (who has talent to be a setup man but could do anything) and also Mortensen.

The bullpen seems to be a strength of this team with depth in the minors, too, including Alex Wilson who was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. If Aceves was released, there is starting pitching depth beyond Mortensen and Morales when Morales returns. Starter Allen Webster, who was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket last week, has been fantastic in big league spring games.

Another option to start games is Rubby De La Rosa, who also was optioned to Pawtucket last week.

Aceves has value but not enough to be worth his headache.

Move on without him.

Isn’t it strange that the Red Sox spent the offseason signing players with high character to improve the clubhouse dynamic and then decided to tender a contract to the one of the most erratic characters in last year’s clubhouse?