Pineiro could assume closer role

Longtime starter could move to closer in '07

BOSTON -- The Red Sox still haven't definitively stated who their closer will be in 2007, but an apparent front-runner has emerged. This, after Thursday's announcement that Boston has signed free-agent right-hander Joel Pineiro to a one-year contract that includes a mutual option for 2008.

The Red Sox envision Pineiro, a starter for most of his career, making a positive transition to the bullpen.

"Obviously, I think I know what role I'm going to be doing, so I'm going to focus on that," said Pineiro. "I've been talking to some people who obviously do that closing job, and trying to get a little feedback. That starting thing, that's in the past. If I get the chance, I get the chance, but my thought process now is to go out there and try and close things out."

In an eventful offseason for the Red Sox, the most challenging aspect has been finding a replacement in the bullpen for Jonathan Papelbon, who will pitch out of the starting rotation in 2007.

"Joel was right at the top of the list," said assistant general manager Jed Hoyer. "He's a guy that, even when he was having great success as a starter, a lot of our reports were, 'Wow, this guy would be unbelievable in the bullpen.' "

The Red Sox have signed Pineiro to a base salary of $4 million in hopes that they've found one of the bargains of the winter.

"Last year, our scouting reports on him when he went to the bullpen really indicated that he had dropped his arm angle a little bit, so he was getting a little bit more life on the ball, and they thought he'd make a very good transition into the bullpen," said Hoyer. "We think we signed a very good relief pitcher. Where he pitches in the bullpen, where he pitches in a game, obviously that's [to be determined] in Spring Training and the beginning of the season, and that will be Terry [Francona's] decision. We think we signed a very good pitcher, one that will make a very good transition."

Pineiro got a taste of life in the bullpen last season for the Mariners, making 15 appearances as the setup man for closer J.J. Putz.

Though his overall numbers in 2006 were disappointing (8-13, 6.36 ERA), Pineiro held opponents to a .213 average during his time in the bullpen.

"It was something where I came in and gave it all I had for one inning," said Pineiro. "Obviously, I wasn't happy in the beginning because I wanted to keep on starting and doing my thing. But that's the way the ball rolled, but I said, you know what, I just want to be pitching. Obviously, a lot of people told me there was a big difference. I dropped down my arm angle a little bit, the ball had more movement. I was very excited about it."

Will the Red Sox halt their search for a closer now that Pineiro is onboard?

"I think that with regard to free agents, yes," said Hoyer. "I think you never, in this business, stop talking about a trade. There's never an offseason for that. You're always talking about deals. [But] from a free-agent standpoint, yeah."

Pineiro joins a bullpen that includes Mike Timlin, Brendan Donnelly, J.C. Romero, Julian Tavarez, Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen. Hoyer isn't ruling out the possibility of a wide-ranging battle to determine the closer's role, and he doesn't necessarily think competition should be limited to Spring Training.

"I think Spring Training is a challenging time to do that," Hoyer said. "Going on Spring Training results is always a difficult and dangerous thing. The early part of the season may indicate or show a lot as far as who is going to be the closer later in the season. But you don't have your postseason roster set in April. You can wait and feel things out during the course of the season, and that may be what has to happen, because you're right -- Spring Training is a tough time to evaluate that kind of thing."

Of Pineiro's 185 career appearances, 148 of them have been starts. The 28-year-old has spent his entire career, which started in 2000, with the Seattle Mariners.

He displayed his upside in 2003, going 16-11 with a 3.78 ERA. In 2002 he was named Seattle's Most Valuable Pitcher, going 14-7 with a 3.24 ERA.

For his career, he is 58-55 with a 4.48 ERA.

After going 37-20 in his first four seasons, Pineiro is 21-35 in the last three years. He hopes that the new role will help rejuvenate a once-promising career.

"Obviously, after I got hurt a little bit in 2004, everything kind of went a little downhill," he said. "Knowing that I don't have to go out there and throw 200, 215 innings, I think it will be good for me to just go out there and trust myself and prove to everybody that I can go back to myself, the way I was earlier."

Pineiro became a free agent when the Mariners non-tendered him on Dec. 12. Now he enters Red Sox Nation, which is a long way from Seattle.

"Things are a little different here," said Pineiro. "This is like baseball nation. Fans are great here, they're always supporting you from the first out to the last out. Hopefully, I can take that adrenaline and that aggressiveness, and, obviously having [Jason] Varitek behind the plate -- that's the No. 1 thing. A lot of people told me [that] having him is going to help me out a lot."

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.