He was, with little debate, the best setup man in major league baseball in 2010 and 2011. It was tough to deny that Daniel Bard was a stud with that 97-mile-per-hour heat, where he’d be automatic in the eighth inning for the Red Sox before giving way to Jonathan Papelbon.
And then 2012 happened.
Bard was converted from reliever to starter and the problems began. Bard hit batters and was unable to throw strikes (43 walks in 59⅓ innings).
Pundits called it a bout of Steve Blass disease, which never really improved through 2012, 2013 (mostly in the Cubs’ system), and 2014, when his limited outings in the Rangers’ farm system were almost sad — 18 batters faced, seven hit by pitches and nine walks.
Was it a mental block or was it physical?
Bard calls it a “perfect storm” of events that worked against him, but he mainly cites his shoulder, for which he underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in January 2014.
He had symptoms (mostly numbness in his hand) for a few years, and he finally addressed it.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, thoracic outlet syndrome describes “a group of disorders that occur when there is compression, injury, or irritation of the nerves and/or blood vessels (arteries and veins) in the lower neck and upper chest area. Thoracic outlet syndrome is named for the space (the thoracic outlet) between your lower neck and upper chest where this grouping of nerves and blood vessels is found.”
The surgery, Bard said, which requires taking a rib or a shoulder bone out, was painful afterward and required him to stay in the hospital for a few days.
He said after getting through some swelling he was able to get his range of motion back fairly quickly. Perhaps Bard thought he was going to regain his pitching form quickly, too. He didn’t. He still couldn’t find the plate when he pitched in the Rangers’ system.
“I feel now as good as I’ve felt since before 2012, maybe before 2011,” Bard said from his home in Mississippi. “I’m throwing as well as I have since then. I haven’t seen a radar gun, so I don’t know if I’m back to what I was, but just the way it’s coming out of my hand, I’m really encouraged by what I feel.”
Bard, 29, expects to be signed by a team, likely to a minor league deal, by early this week. At that point, his new journey will begin. Who knows, it might be Bard’s last chance to show that he can bounce back from the rapid decline of such a promising career.
“I can’t lie,” he said. “It wasn’t pleasant to go through. The one thing that I could do really well was taken away from me. There were some tough times, tough moments. You’re out there and you think you’re throwing the ball well but it’s not doing what you want it to do. It’s so frustrating. I thank the Rangers, though. They were very patient and waited it out as long as they could. They were very good to me.
“But it was tough just bouncing around team to team, not knowing what was going to happen. I learned a lot through the situation, mostly about myself. I know never to take anything for granted. I appreciate every chance I get to show I can get back to what I was. I knew there was a loss of velocity there, but this situation was far more complex.”
Bard never believed converting to starter caused the numbness in his pitching hand. The only qualms he had during that time centered on the amount of attention on his transition from a reliever.
He felt as if every pitch was magnified. He found himself having to answer in-depth questions about his role as a starter after every outing.
All along he could feel a physical change in the way he threw that he couldn’t explain.
“I lost faith in my ability to throw strikes,” Bard said. “To this day I don’t understand it.”
The Red Sox had big plans for Bard.
He was the heir apparent to Papelbon after the closer signed a lucrative deal with Philadelphia. But Bard decided he wanted to be a starter and the Sox front office obliged, though it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to many people.
Although it’s been hard to get teams interested in Bard again, some organization is about to step forward.
“I’ve often said, it only takes one team,” Bard said. “I can’t worry about that part of it right now. The important thing is that I’m throwing again. I’m excited about the way I’m throwing again. I think it’s taken some time — from the time I had the surgery to now — to get back from it. I thought it would happen sooner, but maybe I just had to be more patient.
“The good thing is my arm is fresh. I’m not coming off a 75-appearance season. I’m coming from very little stress on the shoulder, really. I should be fresh.”
Bard believes his starting days are over.
He just wants to his career to be relevant again. A lot has happened since 2012. The Red Sox won another championship. His former bullpen mate, Papelbon, who lives about an hour from him in Mississippi, has worn out his welcome in Philadelphia.
A host of other relievers have replaced Bard as top setup men.
“I’ve fought so hard to get back,” Bard said. “I’ve never given up on what I love to do the most. I’ll keep fighting for it.”
It’s time to add Rose’s name to Hall ballot
More than 25 years have passed since Pete Rose was banned from baseball by commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on baseball games.
The all-time hits leader never got on the Hall of Fame ballot.
I’ve always agreed with Giamatti’s decision of the lifetime ban, and with his decision to allow Rose to apply for reinstatement at some point. After all, gambling on baseball games while you’re uniformed personnel is an egregious offense, compromising the game’s integrity. For those reasons, Bud Selig was right not to have allowed Rose to be relevant in baseball.
But after 25 years, at age 73, has Rose paid for his crime? Granted, it took some 15 years for him to admit to betting on games.
John Dowd’s tremendously detailed report provided proof that Rose bet on his own team’s games. So now, a quarter-century later, is it time to allow a vote on Rose’s Hall of Fame fate, whether that’s through the Veterans Committee or on the BBWAA ballot? I believe it is.
Before Rose was to become eligible for the ballot in December 1991, then-BBWAA chairman Phil Pepe attended a Hall of Fame board of directors meeting and presented the BBWAA’s case for why Rose should be on the ballot. It was denied. The board passed a rule that anyone “not eligible” cannot be on the ballot. The Hall has never made public any opinion about the performance-enhancing drug users.
New commissioner Rob Manfred could reinstate Rose or the Hall of Fame could change its rule and allow a vote. As it stands, BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell said that even if Manfred reinstated Rose, he would no longer be eligible for the BBWAA ballot. He’d have to go to the Veterans Committee.
Right now, the home run king (Barry Bonds), one of the greatest pitchers of all time (Roger Clemens), and the all-time hits leader (Rose) do not have plaques in Cooperstown.
O’Connell said that two voters wrote in Rose’s name on their ballots this year. In 1992, the year Tom Seaver received the highest vote total in history, five voters did not cast votes for him. Three did it in protest of Rose not being on the ballot.
I have no idea whether I would vote for Rose. But what gnaws at me is this great player, who played the game the right way, who was known as “Charlie Hustle” because his energy and passion for the game was so over the top, should have a chance to be elected.
Apropos of nothing
1. Cape Cod League publicist Joe Sherman informs us that Craig Biggio is the fourth Cape Cod Leaguer to be elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Pie Traynor (Falmouth, 1919), Carlton Fisk (Orleans, 1966), and Frank Thomas (Orleans, 1988). Biggio was one of seven ex-Cape League players among the 34 on this year’s ballot. Jeff Bagwell (Chatham, 1987-88), JeffKent (Cotuit, 1988), and Nomar Garciaparra (Orleans, 1993) remain on the ballot. Ex-Capers Aaron Boone (Orleans, 1993), Darin Erstad (Falmouth, 1993-94), and Rich Aurilia (Hyannis, 1991) were the others.
2. The Boston Baseball Writers dinner at Agganis Arena on Jan. 22 will honor Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez with the Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to baseball. Good timing. Last year, Tom Glavine was honored after he was voted into the Hall. Mookie Betts and Brock Holt of the Red Sox will be in attendance, as well as many others around baseball. The 1975 Red Sox, represented by Bernie Carbo and Bill Lee, will also be honored. Tickets for the event can be purchased by calling 617-624-1231.
3. Scott Boras is right when he says at this stage signing a high-ticket player such as his client Max Scherzer is an ownership decision, moreso than earlier in the offseason. Budgets have been maximized, so it takes a general manager to approach his owner and say there’s a player out there who can make a difference who would exceed our budget. And that’s the stage that pitchers James Shields and Scherzer are at.
4. If you’re wondering about the tampering charge the Rays filed against the Cubs over manager Joe Maddon, it’s still alive. MLB investigators have been gathering information, according to a major league source.
5. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington will let his still-crowded outfield situation play out into spring training if he has to. “It may take care of itself,” Cherington said. “And if we have a tough decision to make at the end of spring training, that’s probably a good thing.” The Sox’ outfield depth includes Hanley Ramirez, Betts, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Bryce Brentz, Holt, and Jackie BradleyJr.
6. These guys do great work. Pat Santarone was elected to the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame. He was groundskeeper at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore for 22 years. During his tenure, Baltimore infielders won 25 Gold Gloves, and the team won five pennants and two World Series. He joins Pete Flynn (Mets), Emil Bossard (Indians), George Toma (Royals), Joe Mooney (Red Sox), Dick Ericson (Twins), and Harry Gill (Brewers) in the Hall.
Updates on nine
1. Dan Duquette, GM, Orioles — According to a major league source, Duquette is still in the running for the Blue Jays president’s job. This is a sensitive subject and confidentiality has been very high. Orioles owner Peter Angelos doesn’t have to let Duquette go even if it’s for a higher title and paygrade. In order for this to advance, the teams would have to agree on compensation — money, players, etc. — which is where these deals usually break down.
2. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies — There have been no talks this month between the Phillies and Red Sox, according to a major league source. The Red Sox will not part with Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart. The Phillies would need to get one of the two for Hamels to make a deal they feel comfortable with, and the Red Sox haven’t budged. Meanwhile, the Phillies are getting sniffs from the West Coast on Hamels.
3. James Shields, RHP, free agent — If one team has offered a five-year, $110 million contract, why hasn’t Shields signed? It may be that he doesn’t want to play for the team that made the offer, one National League GM has speculated. Shields is 33, which likely explains the lack of interest in his services. As one GM told me last week, “There isn’t a team who wouldn’t want Shields for three years. But five? That’s where it gets tough.” Maybe. The Giants were in on him for a while and then backed off and decided to pursue positional players. But Shields along with Max Scherzer could move the needle for any team.
4. Jung-ho Kang, SS, Pirates (pending) — Negotiations are ongoing between the Pirates and Kang’s agent, Alan Nero, after Pittsburgh won the posting bid. The sides are making progress toward a four-year deal for about $20 million. They have until Jan. 20 to work out an agreement, and if they don’t Kang has to go back to play in Korea. Nero acknowledges that one of the toughest things in talks is establishing Kang’s value. There are no comparables for a 40-homer, .300-hitting shortstop from the Korea Baseball Organization. Still, Nero remains encouraged and praised Pirates GM Neal Huntington for working hard to try to get this done.
5. Mark Mulder, LHP, free agent — The ESPN analyst said he’s in the final stage of rehab for his Achilles’/ankle injury and will soon make a decision on whether to resume his pitching career. “The ankle is great,” Mulder said. Mulder tried to come back last season and signed a minor league deal with the Angels, but he suffered an Achilles’ injury during a workout. He hasn’t pitched since 2008 with the Cardinals. He is 103-60 with a 4.18 ERA in his career. Mulder won 21 games in 2001 with Oakland.
6. Tanyon Sturtze, ex-major league pitcher — The 44-year-old Worcester native, who played for seven teams over 12 seasons, said in a Facebook posting after the Hall of Fame induction announcement, “The HOF inductees were exactly what everyone thought would be this year and all deserve it, but we need to be careful. I think this group had some guys in that definitely took something along their career to help their production. and if that’s the case we need to open it up to others who are suspected of the same. We want to be fair, but there are guys with better numbers than these inductees and are getting snubbed because of the same accusations.”
7. Chad Billingsley, RHP, free agent — Another comeback story for the once-prominent righthander. Billingsley has received multiple offers and is looking for a major league contract. His agent was Dave Stewart, now GM of the Diamondbacks, so they seem to have a leg up.
8. Alexi Ogando, RHP, free agent — He has had so many injuries and his shoulder medicals don’t look great, according to an American League executive. But once Ogando’s price lowers and he’s no longer holding out for a major league contract, teams will compete for his services. Ogando, 31, has been successful as a starter and reliever.
9. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, Diamondbacks — His offseason rehab after Tommy John surgery is going splendidly, so much so that Arroyo may beat expectations and return in late April or May. Arroyo went 369 starts without a major injury. He’s entering the final year of his contract.
From the Bill Chuck files — “It’s not just that he’s 33, but the pitcher who has thrown the third-most innings over the last five seasons is Shields (1,136). Felix Hernandez (1,155⅔) and Justin Verlander (1,138) are the leaders.” . . . Happy birthday, Alex Delgado (44) and Hank Fischer (75).
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.