BOSTON — The Red Sox have spent the offseason shoring up their bullpen, one of Boston’s big weaknesses last season when it missed the playoffs for just the second time in eight years.
Make no mistake: The closer remains the same.
The Red Sox completed a two-year, $12 million contract with former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks on Tuesday, adding him to the back of the bullpen with closer Jonathan Papelbon and the pitcher who had been in line to inherit that role, Daniel Bard. Red Sox general manager made it clear in a conference call with reporters that the ninth inning still belongs to Papelbon.
“We feel really lucky that Bobby wanted to pitch here and that we were able to get someone of his caliber to help Dan Bard set up for Papelbon,” general manager Theo Epstein said. “Hopefully, he will be part of a ‘pen that will be one of the best we’ve had in Boston.”
A two-time All-Star who was Chicago’s closer when it won the 2005 World Series — its first since 1917 — Jenks saved 27 games for the White Sox last season but lost his closing job at the end of the year when he struggled with forearm problems. He did not pitch after saving both games in a doubleheader against Boston on Sept. 4.
“It was more of a scare for everyone than something that was actually wrong. Medically, I was cleared to go,” Jenks said. “Going into this spring I’m going to be 100 percent and ready to go.”
The Red Sox have also added right-handers Matt Albers and Dan Wheeler to a bullpen that had the third-worst ERA in the AL last season. Lefties Rich Hill, Andrew Miller and Randy Miller have been signed to minor-league deals with invitations to spring training to give manager Terry Francona other options.
“We’ve added a lot of depth, a lot of experience, a lot of power arms and strike-throwers to our ‘pen,” Epstein said. “The last year was a struggle to give Tito some quality arms.”
But what the team really needs is for Papelbon to bounce back from the worst season of his career.
The former All-Star, who turned 30 last month, had 37 saves — the fewest in a full season in his career — and watched his ERA balloon from 1.84 for his first four-plus years to 3.90. He blew as many save opportunities, eight, as he had in the previous two seasons combined.
“Obviously, we still see him as our closer. Now we’ve got two power guys to set up for him,” Epstein said, adding that he kept in touch with Papelbon’s agent to let him know the team was pursuing Jenks. “Pap’s fine with this. Who wouldn’t be? Every time we add someone of quality to the bullpen, he’s excited about it.”
Jenks was second in White Sox history with 173 saves since joining Chicago midseason in 2005 and helping the club win its first World Series in 88 years. He had four saves in the postseason, pitching in all four Series games during a sweep of the Houston Astros.
Jenks saved 81 games over the next two years. After he missed the final 27 games of the 2010 season with ulnar neuritis in his right forearm, the White Sox did not tender him a contract, making him a free agent. General manager Kenny Williams said he would consider bringing Jenks back at a lower salary.
Instead, Jenks is with Boston, a team he said he rooted for as a kid.
Even though he won’t be a closer any more.
“I’m just excited to get with the team that they’re putting together this year,” he said. “It’s all mental. You’ve just got to go out there and stay more focused.”
Jenks gets $6 million in each of the next two seasons. He can earn an additional $1 million annually in performance bonuses if he becomes a closer: $200,000 each for 30, 40, 50, 55 and 60 games finished.
He also can earn award bonuses based on All-Star selection, winning a postseason MVP award, winning a Rolaids relief award and placing among the top three for the AL MVP or Cy Young Award.
Boston also designated infielder Brent Dlugach for assignment.