Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kiko Calero might be a late-inning option

A post in this space already examined some of the options for the Red Sox as they replace Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner in the bullpen next season. The core of the bullpen -- Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen -- will return intact barring a trade. But the Red Sox aren't likely to go to spring training without the quality bullpen depth they had a year ago, the type of quality depth that lifted them to a playoff berth.

One option out there on the market -- an option that wouldn't cost a draft pick in compensation, even -- is Florida righty Kiko Calero.

The 34-year-old righty -- whose middle name is Nomar, incidentally -- posted a 1.95 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.30 with the Marlins last season. His WHIP of 1.100 ranked him 20th among relievers in the major leagues, and his ERA+ of 217 ranked him eighth in the major leagues -- ahead of Ryan Franklin, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria and Francisco Cordero.

He doesn't have overpowering raw stuff. His fastball tops out at 90 miles an hour, and his out pitch is an 80-mile-an-hour sweeping slider. (He threw his slider 54.4 percent of the time last season.)

But he does not give up home runs: Opponents have gone deep eight times (and OPS'ed .646) in their last 685 plate appearances against him. That's often something that one can attribute to luck, something that can even out for a pitcher over time, but Calero hasn't had a home-run rate better than 2.7 percent, the major-league avearge, since Edgar Renteria grounded to Keith Foulke.

(Calero, you'll remember, pitched for the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series and gave up an RBI single to Manny Ramirez in the seventh inning of the wild Game 1.)

He doesn't have to be the team's eighth-inning guy. Okajima and Bard likely will have first claim to that role. But opponents have hit .203 against him in his career with two outs and runnings in scoring position, and he's held opponents to a batting average under .200 when pitching on back-to-back days or on one day of rest.

Other than a walk total that's a tick above the major-league average -- something that's acceptable with his strikeout rate -- Calero might be a pretty nice fit for the Red Sox bullpen next season.

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