Craig Breslow was going to make the most of this free agency thing.
Breslow has punctuated his first go-round in the world of living the life of a free agent with an agreement to rejoin the Red Sox on a one-year, $2 million deal. How he got to that point, however, encompassed a fairly unique path.
A one-year hiccup after a pretty impressive six-season run paved the way for the out-of-the-ordinary free agent experience.
“In terms of the process, it was exciting, it was unsettling,” said the 34-year-old lefty reliever, who still has yet to take his physical with the Red Sox. “I feel like if I were coming off of my 2013 season it probably would have been a much more opportunistic and exciting time. But the body of work I had over seven or eight years spoke to the capability of me as a pitcher. Only a handful of guys go through their career without some season that is an outlier. But everyone will go through a career with one season being their worst. Now, the fact that mine came on the cusp of free agency that’s not how you draw it up. Still, I think there were a number of teams that appreciated the big picture and the body work and that there were a number of things that went into the disappointment of my 2014 season and that I was very much motivated to change that.”
The adventure started after the Red Sox declined a $4 million option on Breslow’s contract, making him available to the rest of the baseball world.
The decision by the Sox came as no surprise to Breslow, who was coming off the worst season of his big league career. The lefty never felt right after his impressive run through October, 2013, battling shoulder weakness from first time he picked up a ball almost a year ago.
The end result was a 5.96 ERA over 60 appearances in ’14. It was a far cry from his showing from ’08-13, when he pitched in the second-most games of any lefty reliever (392) while compiling a 2.82 ERA.
Breslow had some explaining to do. So he, and his agent, Bob Baratta, set out to offer some explanations.
“There’s probably clear boundaries between the story that I have to tell and the information teams have gotten on their own,” he said. “Certain teams are probably more reliant on their own data, where others are very interested in what players have to say. I felt like because six years had taken such a distinct path and there was one data point that fell out of place I had a story to tell, and I knew there was nobody better to tell it but me. So I felt for a number of reasons it made a lot of sense for me to be very involved in the free agent process.”
How he got involved was to venture to San Diego with Baratta to the Major League Baseball winter meetings.
Breslow would join his agent in meeting with interested teams, offering a helpful complement to the track record Baratta could present via numbers on a piece of paper. It was certainly a unique approach for both the player and those attending what the lefty categorized as, “kind of like a combination of a high school prom, a college fraternity party and a corporate holiday party, all under one roof.”
“Ultimately even teams we diverged from mentioned their appreciation for my involvement and that I had left an impression on them,” Breslow said. “Certainly there will be teams where I’m just not a fit. And there will be teams that just won’t be an opportunity. Me as a player looking for employment and just me as a curious intellectual looking to gain perspective on the industry it was worth it.”
By the time he left California, Breslow had a fairly good grasp on what would be available to him. The Cubs and a few other teams continued to show healthy interest in him. But it was the Red Sox who never were too far out of the picture.
“Toward the end of the season I had a number of conversations with Ben [Cherington],” Breslow said. “I knew he had been in touch with Bob, but the timing wasn’t right for them to exercise the option, which I understood. Then some of the bigger pieces started to fall we both started realizing that maybe there was a fit. When it comes to feeling like I have an interesting track record and a story to tell, while nobody knows the story better than I do, the second character in the story — Ben and [manager] John [Farrell] and [pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] and [bullpen coach] Dana [Levangie] — have been the guys literally across the street. I think I had expressed to Ben and John what I thought contributed to 2014 and what I planned to do this offseason so that 2015 could look a lot like 2013. I absolutely believed it and I know the work that I’m doing is going to pay off. And as the discussion progressed they realized it also.
“My story is that I didn’t have a healthy offseason going into 2014 and what I needed more than anything was to put this free agent process behind me and just focus on my workouts and physical therapy.”
With the offseason adventure over, Breslow will continue his workouts at Mike Boyle’s complex in Woburn before heading to Fort Myers at the beginning of February. Unlike the year before, he has felt healthy and strong ever since the first time he started throwing, Nov. 1.
“Last year I started throwing after the New Year and felt like I never really caught up to where I would like to be having gotten such a late start not feeling not so great when I picked up a ball,” he said. “It was never like I picked up the ball, started throwing and never looked back. I hit some bumps along the way. But ever since I picked up a ball on Nov. 1 I’ve been able to build up arm strength, increase distance, intensity and volume every step of the way and feel really good.
“A part of my decision making was influenced by feeling like I owed something to this organization based on how I left in 2014.”