Commentary

Bailey's value rises with Red Sox

Updated: December 28, 2011, 7:10 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

The Boston Red Sox's bullpen makeover continued on Wednesday, and unlike their Dec. 14 trade for 2011 closer Mark Melancon, this deal scored them their clear ninth-inning guy for 2012: Andrew Bailey.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Bailey
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAndrew Bailey has 75 career saves in three big league seasons.

According to ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, the Red Sox acquired Bailey, along with outfielder Ryan Sweeney, from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for outfielder Josh Reddick and two Class A prospects: Third baseman Miles Head, 20, and right-hander Raul Alcantara, 19.

Bailey's fantasy value scarcely changes as a result of his move east, other than the obvious instinct that the Red Sox are more likely to win 90 games than the Athletics, meaning a better chance at nightly saves. But the right-hander's numbers didn't exactly suffer as a result of the Athletics winning only 47.3 percent of their games (230 of 486) during his time there; he saved 74 games, 15th-best in the majors, in his three seasons with the team. Pacing his performance per 162 team games, Bailey has averaged exactly 30 saves per season.

The problem, of course, is that Bailey has never actually reached that 30-save plateau in a single year, and it's because of what has been a checkered injury history, at least relative to your typical 27-year-old with three years' experience. Out of those 486 team games, for instance, Bailey has been on the active roster for only 404, having made a disabled-list trip for an intercostal strain in 2010, and another for a forearm strain that cost him the first two months of 2011. He's the kind of closer for whom the primary handcuff/setup man must be known, and that's why the name Melancon remains entirely relevant.

As things stand, the Red Sox's bullpen appears to line up Melancon-Daniel Bard-Bailey, though talk that Bard will be tried as a starter during spring training makes Melancon, at least as things currently stand, the smarter partner in American League-only or deep mixed leagues. One thing is for certain: The Red Sox's bullpen should be vastly improved should Bard and Melancon both reside in it; their relievers not named Jonathan Papelbon combined for a 3.77 ERA and 1.24 WHIP last season.

One negative about the deal is that Bailey might now be universally regarded a top-10 fantasy closer, even if the risk involved should keep him just outside of that group. Following the trade I've moved him up from 16th to 13th among closers, directly behind Jordan Walden, and 172nd to 155th overall. By all rights he could finish among the top 10, with an outside shot at 40 saves, a 2.50 ERA and a strikeout-per-inning average. But Bailey could always get hurt again, as he has been in back-to-back years, and again fail to reach 30 saves.

Incidentally, don't underestimate Sweeney's inclusion in the deal. While he'll probably be a mere late-rounder/low-auction-bid pick in AL-only leagues, and a non-factor in mixed formats, he could be a sneaky value both for the Red Sox and fantasy owners in those deeper leagues. Chances are, he'll enter next season a part-timer/fourth outfielder, albeit one with a good handful of at-bats.

[+] EnlargeJosh Reddick
AP Photo/Michael DwyerJosh Reddick will get regular at-bats for the A's, but is he that much of a fantasy prospect anymore?

Sweeney's batted-ball tendencies show something intriguing, as he's a left-handed hitter with excellent skills hitting to the opposite field, which could be a perfect fit for Boston's Fenway Park. Check the stats: Of his 70 hits last season, 28 were to left field, and 79 of his 301 career hits have gone in that direction. In addition, 349 of his 908 career balls in play have gone to left field, and his lifetime line-drive rate in that direction is 20.4 percent. Some of the same factors drove the Red Sox's interest in Adrian Gonzalez, one of the best opposite-field hitters in baseball, so track the team's plans for Sweeney during spring training.

Reddick should immediately take over at an outfield corner for the Athletics, volume of plate appearances alone putting him on the map in AL-only and deep mixed leagues. Hardcore fantasy owners might recall a 30-game stretch last June/July during which Reddick managed .355/.400/.634 rates, but a .223/.272/.345 performance in 52 games from that point until season's end underscored the truth: He's more of a middling corner outfielder than a budding superstar. There's a good chance that, outside of a similar hot spell, he won't even crack the mixed-league radar in fantasy leagues in 2012.

As for Head and Alcantara, neither was generally regarded one of the Red Sox's top 10 prospects, though each has a considerable ceiling and could reach that level with some growth in the lower minors next season. Keeper-league owners -- except for the very deepest formats -- shouldn't target either, but rather check back on their progress at a few points in 2012.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.