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After a transformative offseason that has earned them the mantra of Hot Stove League champions, the Red Sox will head to Fort Myers with few job openings. Barring injury, the most substantial competition will be among a handful of relief pitchers for the final two seats in the bullpen.
By virtue of their contracts and incumbent status, right-hander Scott Atchison and lefty Hideki Okajima may be slight favorites. But the field also includes right-hander Matt Albers, Hill and perhaps fellow lefties Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront, each of who represent intriguing options.
Albers, a free agent addition from the Baltimore Orioles with a penchant for getting ground balls, may push Atchison, nothing new for a 34-year-old who returned last year from two seasons in Japan and made an Opening Day roster for the first time last spring. And while Okajima’s numbers have declined each year since 2007, the Red Sox re-signed him for $1.5 million because they lack proven in-house lefty alternatives.
Doubront, 23, made both his major league debut and an eye-opening conversion to the bullpen last season with 13 strikeouts in 92⁄3 innings. But there is a feeling within the organization he will get greater long-term benefit from being a starter in Triple A than facing mostly left-handed hitters as a reliever in the majors.
Then there are Hill and Miller, both seeking a return to the majors at different stages in their careers.
You can't argue with Atichson and Okajima being the favorites heading into Spring Training. However, Albers will be the one to watch to grab one of those two spots, which means the bullpen will be pretty full. Counting these two spots, the Red Sox will be having seven pitchers in the roster as Wakefield, Wheeler, Jenks, Bard, and Papelbon are already in there. These two pitchers will be getting little work and would be primarily used as specialists when Terry Francona decides to imitate Tony LaRussa. I think Oki and Albers will be taking the two spots, but Spring Training will make things a bit more clearer.. hopefully.