COMMENTARY | In a year that's been consistently inconsistent for the Boston Red Sox's bullpen, reliever-turned-closer Koji Uehara has brought tremendous stability. And Sox fans should expect him back in the same role next year.
With one more appearance, Uehara's deal is extended by a year, making him a heck of a bargain at anywhere between $4.25 million and $5 million, depending on how many games he finishes in 2013.
Since coming over from the Yomiuri Giants of Japan's NPB, Uehara has posted the best strikeout-to-walk rate in MLB history. He's become a steady presence in an otherwise shaky bullpen, and has filled in admirably when Boston's first two closers, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, were lost for the year with injuries.
After being robbed of a slot on the AL All-Star team last month, Uehara has been virtually unhittable. In 11 innings pitched, he's yet to allow a run while posting a 0.45 WHIP. Opponents are hitting just .111 against him since the break.
Not a bad string of games.
Uehara has rewarded the Red Sox's patience with his recent hot streak. Last month, rumors persisted that the club may be interested in bringing back former closer Jonathan Papelbon. Not only would he cost a great deal to acquire, but Papelbon is also owed a lot of money over the next few years. The Red Sox passed on acquiring Papelbon -- or any closer -- at the non-waiver trade deadline, instead gambling on Uehara.
And it's worked out. Uehara's stock has skyrocketed while Papelbon's has plummeted, culminating in some choice words for his new team.
At a mere fraction of Papelbon's contract and none of the headache, Uehara is a bargain. The only downside: He'll be 39 at the start of next season. Though he relies more on control than an overpowering fastball, a sudden and dramatic drop-off could happen at any time for a pitcher his age.
While it appears that the Red Sox have their closer problem addressed for the near future, a contingency plan is never harmful. Junichi Tazawa has also dabbled in the closer role with varying degrees of success and if it came down to it, he could be an option to fill in for an injured or ailing Uehara.
As it stands, finding a viable closing option heading into the postseason can be checked off the list of concerns.
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- Koji Uehara
- Boston Red Sox
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