Red Sox finalize deal with Bobby Jenks

BOSTON -- Even after the Boston Red Sox acquired slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez via trade, then signed free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford, general manager Theo Epstein said he was still focused on improving the club's bullpen.

This week the Red Sox were able to add veteran right-hander Dan Wheeler to their bullpen, and Tuesday afternoon the club officially announced the signing of right-hander Bobby Jenks to a two-year contract worth $12 million.

A closer by nature, the 29-year-old will change his role and serve as a setup man for Jonathan Papelbon.

"I'm excited to get the opportunity to come here," Jenks said. "Obviously with the season they're putting together this year, it's very exciting. I've always wanted to play in Boston."

Jenks explained that a couple of seasons ago when he was with the White Sox and they played at Fenway, he and good friend Josh Beckett got together.

"I told him this is one of the places I always wanted to be, so once the opportunity was available I jumped on it," Jenks said.

Epstein did, too.

"We feel really lucky that Bobby wanted to pitch here, and we were able to get someone of his caliber to join our bullpen and help Dan Bard set up for Pap," Epstein said. "It's not every day you can bring in someone of his caliber without a closer opening. We feel lucky that it happened."

A two-time All-Star, Jenks has converted 86.9 percent (173 of 199) of his career save opportunities over six seasons in the majors with the White Sox. Despite dealing with some arm issues last season, he placed eighth among AL closers with 27 saves.

The hard-throwing right-hander converted 19 of 20 save opportunities in the first half of 2010. He finished the season with a 1-3 record and a 4.44 ERA in 55 games. He struck out 61 in 52 2/3 innings.

"It was just a bad year," he said. "Things didn't fall into place, and it seemed like every broken-bat hit just fell into the right spot. It was really frustrating. The ball just didn't go my way sometimes."

Jenks is one of four pitchers to collect at least 25 saves in each of the last five seasons, joining Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriguez.

"Bobby is someone who has great stuff, but we see him as more than just a thrower," Epstein said. "He really knows how to pitch as well. He goes right at guys and throws strikes, and brings the kind of fearlessness to the mound that we look for in a market like Boston. We think he's going to fit in great and hopefully be part of a bullpen that's one of the best ones we've had around here in a long time."

Epstein has kept Papelbon's agent up to speed this offseason as to the direction of the bullpen and the types of pitchers the club was talking to. Because Papelbon completely shuts himself off from the baseball world during the offseason, Epstein left him a voicemail once the club signed Jenks.

"We obviously still see [Papelbon] as our closer and now we have two power setup guys to get him the ball in the ninth inning," Epstein said. "Pap, I'm sure, is fine with this. Who wouldn't want guys like this pitching alongside him in the bullpen? Pap kind of disappears during the offseason and does his own thing and then shows up ready to go in spring training, and in great shape as always.

"Every time we add someone of quality to the bullpen he's excited about it, and that should certainly be the case again this time."

The addition of Jenks will help save the arm of Bard, who tossed 74 2/3 innings in 2010. Because the hard-throwing right-hander won't be as taxed, Papelbon should also have a better season than he did last summer.

Even though he's always been a closer, Jenks is not worried about becoming a setup man.

"It's all mental," he said. "You've just got to go out there and stay focused. The approach is the same."

Jenks passed his physical on Tuesday and said he's ready to go.

"I feel 100 percent right now," he said. "I went into the offseason 100 percent healthy, but it was frustrating not being able to finish out the season."

He was throwing bullpen sessions at the end of the season and believes he'll be ready to go once spring training arrives, and is looking forward to the opportunity to work with each pitcher in the Red Sox bullpen.

"It's going to be exciting," he said. "Plus the addition of Wheeler, I'm excited about all the guys there. It's going to be a lot of fun working with everyone."

The way the Red Sox's bullpen is constituted, it's right-hand heavy with Jenks, Wheeler, Bard and Papelbon. Epstein believes the left-handed options will come from within the organization with the likes of Rich Hill, Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront in the mix.

Doubront will begin spring training as a starter, but if the organization believes he's the right fit as the lefty in the bullpen, then that's where he'll be in 2011.

It's been a very productive offseason for Epstein & Co.

"We've added a lot of experience, power arms and strike-throwers to our bullpen," Epstein said. "Last year it was a struggle all season long to put it together and give [manager Terry Francona] some quality options out there. If we broke camp today, we feel like we have an abundance of options."

Too bad spring training is still a month and a half away.

Joe McDonald is a reporter and columnist for ESPNBoston.com.