Having been the Dodgers closer for the last three seasons, Saito brings a ninth inning mentality with him, and gives the Red Sox even greater flexibility. Saito can be an eighth inning bridge to Jonathan Papelbon, or he can finish games himself, giving Papelbon an occasional, and surely needed, rest throughout the season.
Before going down with a partially torn elbow ligament last year, Saito racked up 81 saves over three seasons, including 39 in 2007 when he was an All-Star.
Despite his injury, the Dodgers offered him $2 million guaranteed, plus $200K in incentives, which Saito rejected. Though he'll be 39 on Valentine's Day, Saito has been dominant in the past and the Sox expect him to regain that form this year. The Red Sox medical staff put him through extensive evaluations, and he passed them all with flying colors. For his part, Saito says he feels great and doesn't anticipate any limitations this season.
In giving Saito a one-year contract guaranteeing just $1.5 million ($2.5 million if he's on the active roster), plus a club option for 2010, the Sox chose yet another in a series of low cost options on the free agent market.
While many have described the acquisitions of Josh Bard, Brad Penny, Rocco Baldelli, John Smoltz, and Saito as "low risk," that isn't necessarily so. It would be better to describe them as low cost since each of them is coming off significant injury or illness. There is a distinct possibility that some, or all, of them re-injure themselves again this year and are unable to play.
The five aforementioned players are each signed to incentive-laden one-year contracts that will cost the Red Sox a base total of $13.7 million, or $2.8 million less than the Yankees will pay the injury-prone A.J. Burnett this year. That just seems like good business sense in a down economy.
With Mark Kotsay also coming back into the fold and serving as both a backup first baseman and outfielder, Terry Francona can now carry 12 pitchers. The 12th spot was originally slated for David Aardsma, but with the addition of Saito, you have to wonder who makes the club now.
The Red Sox bullpen now consists of Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Saito. Whether Justin Masterson will be in the rotation or in the pen remains to be determined. His presence gives the Sox tremendous flexibility.
And don't forget that the Sox also acquired Littleton in a trade with Texas and claimed Gonzalez from the Angels in the Rule V draft. Gonzalez has to be on the major league roster all year, or the Sox have to return him to the Angels. As of now, both pitchers remain on the 40-man roster and Epstein has said he likes their potential.
Assuming that Masterson starts the season in the pen, that leaves Aardsma, Littleton and Gonzalez as the odd men out.
One thing is for certain; the Red Sox have a lot of depth right now, and that will surely serve them well this year.