FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The question was easy for Daniel Bard to answer.
"How do you view yourself, as a reliever or a starter?"
"I see myself as a pitcher," he responded without hesitation following his Thursday workout at the Red Sox minor-league training facility.
As we sit here right now, Bard is a relief pitcher, a very important reliever for the Red Sox, helping carry the load in getting to closer Jonathan Papelbon. But that doesn't mean living life in the bullpen is how the 25-year-old plans on ending up.
Bard, a starter in college and throughout his first professional season, likes the idea of perhaps re-entering the world of a starting rotation somewhere down the line.
"I kind of would like to try it. It's something I would like to do," said Bard of starting again. "It would kind of challenge myself. You've never proven yourself, but I know I can do the reliever thing for myself, just as a personal challenge, [starting] would be cool."
While it is understood Bard's value to the Red Sox is in his current spot, being called upon to secure all-important, late-inning outs, the idea of the righty re-entering the world of starting pitching is intriguing.
Bard -- who said he has not talked contract extension with the Red Sox as of yet -- will be arbitration-eligible (barring any time in the minor leagues in 2011) following the coming season due to his 'Super-2' classification. With that being the case, Bard will be eligible for free agency following the '15 season.
The timing is interesting. The four top members of the Red Sox' starting rotation -- Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz -- are all under the team's control through the '14 season. It is after that campaign the Sox will be faced with decisions regarding turning over their rotation, potentially giving Bard an opening to fulfill his desire to dip back into the starting pitching pool.
"Sometime down the road, if we're in the need of a starter, it might come into play, and I would definitely be open to it," he said. "But right now it's not even an issue."
While it might be difficult for some to envision such a transformation for Bard considering the assumption is that his role is destined to evolve into that of a closer, there is some evidence that such a switch might work for all involved.
One of the more recent success stories Bard points to when analyzing a pitcher making a move from reliever to starter is that of Texas' C.J. Wilson. After spending his first five major-league seasons in the bullpen, Wilson made a very successful move to the Rangers' starting rotation in '10, finishing at 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA.
Like Bard, Wilson had enough pitches to make it through the opposition's lineup multiple times. But another aspect of the lefty's alteration that proved key was his acceptance to adapt, as was evidenced by Wilson throwing his fastball 20 percent less in '10 than any of his other previous seasons.
“The biggest single factor to C.J.’s success in the transition last year, in my opinion, was his desire to do it," wrote Rangers' general manager Jon Daniels in an e-mail. "That led to everything else -- the extra work in the weight room, asking questions of Nolan [Ryan], [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux] and others, studying his craft. Bottom line is he wanted it.”
The switch worked so well, in fact, that the Rangers have been toying with the idea of moving closer Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation for '11. Texas also was the one team that had told Red Sox' reliever Bobby Jenks that it wanted to sign the long-time closer as a starter.
"I was a little thrown back," said Jenks told WEEI.com in Jan. when discussing the Rangers' offer. "I would be lying to say it wasn't intriguing. It would be fun, but is it really worth it? I haven't started since '04. I think the longest I've ever gone in the big leagues is three innings. It was one of those moves where, yeah it sounds exciting at first, but the more thought you give it the more sense it makes not to do it."
One thing is certain: Bard would be entering into such a venture with his eyes wide open.
This is a pitcher who only knew life a starter until the Red Sox switched him to the bullpen while Bard was playing for Honolulu in the Hawaiian Winter League prior to the '08 season. And while he would have liked to have left a more positive impression as a professional starter, making people forget that '07 season (in which he posted a 7.08 ERA in 22 starts with two Single-A clubs), those struggles won't serve as his motivation.
"That's not the reason," Bard said regarding any impetus to start once again. "It wasn't starting I had a problem with, it was pitching. You could have thrown me in any role my first year of pro ball and I would have stunk. It didn't matter what inning I was pitching, or starting or relieving. It would just be progress in terms of my development as a pitcher."
And then there is the undeniable financial benefits of living life as a starter.
While the three-year, $35 million deal the Yankees signed reliever Rafael Soriano to this offseason was a step in the right direction for relief pitchers looking for future paydays, there is still a big gap between the money allocated for top-level starters and their bullpen counterparts.
All of it will factor in when making such a move. For now, no such move is under consideration by either the player or the team. But that doesn't mean Bard won't be doing some considering in the years to come.
"It can definitely be done," he said. "This team and this situation, it's not a fit right now and I'm fine right now. I love the role I'm in, I can't emphasize that enough. If it presents itself a year or two down the road, I would definitely be open to it."