Few things in baseball are as fragile as the success of a relief pitcher. A reliever can put everything together for a season or two, just to watch it all fall apart without any warning. While finding a reliable closer can be difficult (just look at the list of closers the Rays have run through over the past eight years), finding other members of the bullpen can be just as hard. That problem with reliability extends to the rest of the bullpen, making investing in relievers a very harrowing experience.
Perhaps no reliever in recent memory is a testament to that fragility than Daniel Bard. Over the first three years of his career, Bard was a dominant setup man for the Red Sox, posting a 2.88 ERA with 1.056 WHiP, while striking out just under ten batters per nine. His walk rate was a bit on the high side, but Bard was able to compensate by not only keeping the ball in the park, but by being difficult to hit at all, allowing only six hits per nine innings.
Everything fell apart for Bard in 2012. He insisted upon being converted to a starter during Spring Training, and opened the season in the rotation over the objections of then manager Bobby Valentine. That proved to be a disaster, as Bard soon became a more recent version of Steve Blass and Rick Ankiel, unable to locate the same zip code as the strike zone. He continued to get worse, even in his trek to the minors, to the point where the Red Sox released him outright to make room for utility infielder John MacDonald.
Yet, despite his issues, Bard may be worth a gamble for a team willing to attempt to resurrect his career. He is unable to be a free agent for the next two seasons, and has a minor league option left if signed to the 40 man roster. There are other possible issues aside from Bard’s complete lack of control. His fastball velocity has decreased by three miles per hour since his heyday from 2009 through 2011, and his mechanics have completely deteriorated. One also has to wonder about his mindset at this point. Bard may need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up.
Enter the Rays. If any team would even have a chance of being able to get anything out of Bard, it may well be the Rays. They have had plenty of success with reclamation projects amongst relievers in the past, working wonders with pitchers such as Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth, amongst others. Is it possible that they could work the same magic with Bard?
Daniel Bard would likely be a low cost signing with tremendous potential for a nice payoff. Add in two more years of team control and that remaining roster option, and Bard would seemingly be tailor made for a possible Rays reclamation project.