By Jeff Louderback
Acquired before last season when the Red Sox shipped Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies, Clayton Mortensen was a pleasant surprise in 2012.
The 27-year-old Mortensen, who was a supplemental first round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals out of Gonzaga University in 2007, posted a 3.21 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP with 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings over 26 relief appearances last year.
Because of the pitching depth that Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has assembled, Mortensen could be the odd man out when the opening day roster is composed. Mortensen is out of options, so he must either make the opening day roster or be designated for assignment. Since the Idaho native is a versatile arm who can serve as a reliever or a starter, he would get plucked by a team in need of pitching.
The Red Sox don’t have to lose Mortensen, who provides rotation depth and would be ideal as the long reliever. They could trade 30-year-old Alfredo Aceves to create a spot.
Essentially, Mortensen is a younger and non-disruptive version of Aceves. Though Mortensen does not have a mid-90s heater, he does have a plus sinker that induces lots of grounders.
If Aceves was a model teammate, he would be worth keeping. He can fill multiple relief roles and has a mix of four pitches that make him a candidate to start games as well. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Aceves is prone to creating to creating controversy and tension. His dust-ups with Bobby Valentine and Dustin Pedroia last season contributed to a year of dysfunction in Boston.
On Sunday, he lobbed balls during live batting practice when he was expected to pitch at full velocity. After Aceves was “talked to” by pitching coach Juan Nieves and manager John Farrell, he reared back and delivered his pitches at full speed.
During the offseason, the Red Sox made a commitment to improving the club’s culture. Cherington signed free agents who are known for playing the game hard and being model teammates. Farrell is well-respected, and the coaching staff he has assembled is affable.
Unlike previous seasons, the Red Sox have rotation and bullpen depth. Without Aceves, the bullpen could feature Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller, Craig Breslow and Mortensen. There are seven spots, and even without Aceves that list includes eight names. Chances are, Boston will deal a left-hander.
Since Morales has the potential to be a strong middle of the rotation starter as well as a dependable set-up man, he is unlikely to be dealt. Breslow was signed to a two-year deal and he represents the strike-throwing arm that Farrell prefers. Miller has trade value as a power reliever who could eventually close.
The Red Sox can afford to part with Aceves and Miller because they have Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Chris Hernandez and Steven Wright as rotation depth at Pawtucket and names like Alex Wilson, the intriguing Jose De La Torre and of course Daniel Bard as bullpen depth.
Last week, 26-year-old first baseman/left fielder Mike Carp was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners. The Red Sox are reportedly interested, so perhaps the Mariners are a potential destination for Aceves.