As this is being written, the wheels hadn't been put in motion. Aaron Cook was still a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox, and Daniel Bard continued to prepare for his start in Toronto Tuesday.
But that isn't going to stop the question from being asked.
Does the short-term gain of moving Bard into the bullpen outweigh the benefits of finding out what exactly kind of starting pitcher the righty could be become?
There is no easy answer, and the riddle got appreciably more difficult to decipher after Sunday's loss. But, even with 158 games left, the correct path for Bard might be considerably different than many perceived when there were 159 games remaining.
It sounds stupid, I know. One game in such a huge batch affecting the future of a pitcher and an organization? But one of the key elements in building a successful foundation is understanding when there is a crossroads and then taking the right path.
Terry Francona identified the moment two games into the 2006 season, sending Jonathan Papelbon down his six-year run as Red Sox closer while kicking Keith Foulke to the eigth-inning curb. Now it might be Bobby Valentine's turn.
Before the pros and cons are presented in regard to what to do with Bard, understand why Sunday might have altered opinions and pushed perceived sensibility aside. This isn't your average, ordinary, 0-3 major league team. This is a playoff-caliber club that is being weighed down by its self-induced 2011 cloud. The doubts. The public perception. The references to last season. They will all be hovering until the club feels like good times are within site.
Think about it: Josh Beckett visits doctors and gets shelled. Clay Buchholz simply gets shelled. Andrew Bailey is out for four months. Carl Crawford is still in Fort Myers. And, most pertinent in this case, a bullpen presents few answers to some very important questions. The Red Sox need a step forward, the kind one win in Toronto won't give. They need hope.
They need Bard in the bullpen.
For many, such a move is considered a no-brainer after what happened against the Tigers. A three-run lead is blown by closer Alfredo Aceves in the ninth inning. Two frames later Mark Melancon, Plan B in the closing conundrum, also allows three runs, resulting in the Sox' latest loss. That would put the bullpen at 11 1/3 innings, a 7.94 ERA and a .367 batting average against. But it's not simple. That's why wheels haven't been put in motion despite the fact the pieces don't seem quite right.
THE ARGUMENT FOR STAYING A STARTER
Before we get the longterm reason to keep Bard in his current lot in life (which, typically, would be the be-all, end-all), it should be understood that there is an argument to made that recent developments also might offer a reason for him to stay as a starter.
If Beckett's effectiveness or availability is hampered by the thumb injury, there will be a need for a pitcher who has potential for a top-of-the-rotation existence. Bard may be closest of those not named Buchholz or Lester to fit that bill. He's not there yet, but he could be within the next few months, and that's an opportunity not a lot of pitchers have at their disposal.
There is also the chance to start Bard down a financial path that would benefit the soon-to-be budgetary-challenged Red Sox down the road. It's the Brandon Morrow progression. Just 2 1/2 seasons after going from the bullpen to Seattle's starting rotation, the flame-thrower avoided his second year of arbitration eligibility by signing a three-year, $21 million extension (with a $10 million club option for '15) with the Blue Jays.
By committing to Morrow as a starting pitcher, both on and off the field, the Jays may be avoiding the pitfalls teams often face when trying to pay the front of their rotations. If the Red Sox stay with Bard as a starter, convince him to sign a contract that pays him as a "significant" pitcher, by the time the likes of Lester and Beckett are finishing up their current deals, Bard and Buchholz could have built a whole new affordable foundation.
But finances aside, just the mere opportunity to find out what Bard can be as a starter -- the kind of pitcher that is the most valued commodity in all of baseball -- remains tantalizing.
As has been well-documented right up to Tuesday's start, Bard has shown enough to suggest that he could be something special as a starter. Despite the higher pitch counts, he has shown his velocity can hover around 95-96 mph late in the game, he has a well above-average secondary pitch in his slider, and he displays a changeup that, with more consistency, could be a legitimate out-pitch. He also possesses a manageable two-seamer, the kind of which can be used to keep pitch counts down.
This isn't about suggesting a fifth starter could be more valuable than a end-of-the-bullpen reliever. This is about a pitcher with top-of-the-rotation ability being of higher value than such a relief pitcher.
THE ARGUMENT FOR GOING BACK TO THE BULLPEN
Despite what we've seen thus far, the Red Sox actually have the pieces for what could be an above-average bullpen. Vicente Padilla has shown his value, as has Franklin Morales. And you can't simply dismiss the talents of Aceves and Melancon, neither of whom shouldn't be judged on two appearances.
But the current situation has presented some problems when getting the most out of the two closer candidates.
Aceves looks like a pitcher who could have the right mentality for the job but doesn't seem quite in sync with the role yet. In a perfect world, the righty could have used spring training as a training ground for the job -- kind of like it was when he lived the life of a starter -- but because Bailey's injury took place so late in the exhibition season, that wasn't possible. He also has the stuff, cranking his fastball up to 96 mph Sunday, but there won't be a lot of swings and misses. Aceves had a swing-and-miss percentage of around 17 percent in '11, which was 10 percent less than Bard.
The strength of the current closer also hasn't been putting out fires, having allowed 11 of his 29 inherited runners to score in '11, while Bard was letting just five of his 34 inherited runners to come home.
As for Melancon, his swing-and-miss ratio in '11 is closer to what the Red Sox are looking for (around 24 percent), and he let just 4-of-17 inherited runners to score. But that was in a different league, on a different team. Throughout spring training and the first few games of the regular season, he hasn't been able to show his value to those needing to rely on the reliever. That might change, but at this time -- a very important time -- uncertainty rules the roost.
That's where Bard comes in. As currently constituted, he is the perfect piece to complete was some might think is flawed puzzle. He gets swings and misses. He puts out fires. And he has come through in enough pressure situations for these Red Sox that his teammates fully understand what they would be getting.
Bard does his thing, allowing the others to slide into their niches. And what about that spot left vacant in the rotation? Cook hit 93 mph for Pawtucket Saturday while continuing to display his trademark sink. And further down the road there is the opportunity to give Daisuke Matsuzaka, Andrew Miller or even Padilla a chance to enter the rotation. There could even be a scenario in which Bard re-enters the starting mix if some relievers truly find another level.
The move wouldn't be all that dissimilar from the kind of boost a team might get via a trade deadline acquisition. And while we might be be three months early in seeking out such a jolt, it should be once again noted this isn't a typical early season scenario.
The Red Sox need some hope, and their best chance at finding it might wear No. 51.