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Red Sox round out relief remake by adding Dan Wheeler

12.18.10 at 10:00 am ET
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The Red Sox bullpen was an unquestioned weakness in 2010, the team’s 4.24 ERA ranking 12th in the American League and 24th in the majors. The team’s 22 blown saves were likewise the second most in the American League, as well as fourth most in the majors. It was with good reason that GM Theo Epstein proclaimed the need for relief the team’s most pressing concern, both at the start of the offseason and even after the acquisitions of both Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

Now, the Red Sox appear close to a reshaping of the group that failed them so often in 2010. The team has already agreed with Bobby Jenks on a two-year deal, pending a physical today. In addition, according to a sources familiar with the negotiations, the Red Sox have agreed to terms with free agent reliever Dan Wheeler. Wheeler passed his physical, making the deal official.

The deal is for one-year with a club option for the 2012 season that will vest with 65 appearances. Wheeler, according to a source, will be paid $3 million in 2011. His option is also worth $3 million, though its value bumps up to $3.25 million if he makes 75 appearances. There is no buyout of the option. (Financial terms were first reported by AOL FanHouse and confirmed by WEEI.com.)

The additions of Wheeler and Jenks give the Sox two experienced late-inning options to bolster the relay to closer Jonathan Papelbon and to provide depth beyond Daniel Bard, who was leaned upon last season as, at times, the lone reliable setup option.

Wheeler was a middle innings reliever for a Tampa Bay Rays club that converted the highest percentage of save opportunities in the AL in 2010; Jenks’ White Sox ranked second in that category. The Rays bullpen also had the best relief ERA (3.33) of any team in the American League.

Though both Wheeler and Jenks are right-handed, both experienced success against hitters from both sides of the plate last season. Jenks had better across-the-board numbers in 2010 against lefties than he did against righties, holding southpaws to a line of .243/.302/.346/.648, compared to a .277/.342/.347/.689 tally by right-handers. Wheeler held righties to a line of .222/.287/.400/.687 and lefties to marks of .154/.227/.436/.663; that said, he was hit hard by lefties in 2009, and was used as something of a right-on-right specialist by the Rays, particularly over the last two years.

Wheeler, 33, who played high school ball at Pilgrim High School in Warwick (R.I.), was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays in 1996. He has since spent time with the Braves, Mets and Astros organizations before returning to Tampa Bay in 2007 in a trade for Ty Wigginton.

Wheeler had a 3.35 ERA in 48 1/3 innings in 2010, and he struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. However, his innings total was the lowest of his professional career, and he has seen his workload go down in each of the last three years. He did, however, make 64 appearances, continuing his reputation as a workhorse. He has averaged 70 appearances per year since the start of the 2005 season.

Over his last three full seasons with the Rays, he has a 3.24 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, while walking 2.5 batters per nine. Wheeler has appeared in 21 postseason games for the Rays and Astros, forging a 3.38 ERA while striking out 28 and walking eight in 26 2/3 innings.

The Rays declined a $4 million option for his services for the 2011 season, instead opting to pay a $1 million buyout. The Rays also declined to offer the veteran salary arbitration. He earned $3.5 million last season in the final year of a three-year, $10.5 million deal he signed with the Rays prior to the 2008 season.

In addition to Wheeler and Jenks, the Sox have also added a number of relief depth options, including a major league deal for Matt Albers and minor league deals for Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Jason Bergmann and Lenny DiNardo, among others. With the additions, the team is hoping that a costly weakness from a year ago will be in a position to support the team’s ambitions of a return to the postseason in 2011.

Gordon Edes of ESPN.com (via twitter) was the first to report an agreement between Wheeler and the Sox. AOL FanHouse reported that the Sox agreed not to offer Wheeler salary arbitration if he is a Type A free agent, while Wheeler agreed to decline an offer of salary arbitration if he is a Type B free agent. (Under the current rules of compensation for free agent departures, a team must give up a draft pick in order to sign a Type A free agent; the team from which he departs receives two compensatory draft picks. A team does not need to give up a draft pick in order to sign a Type B free agent, but the team that he leaves receives one compensatory draft pick from Major League Baseball.)

Read More: bobby jenks, dan wheeler, Hot Stove,
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