There’s a different aura surrounding Scott Atchison and fellow relief pitcher Michael Bowden – the kind that goes with the territory of having the baseball phrase “out of options” stamped on their respective professional careers.
As Atchison and Bowden prepare to head to spring training with the Red Sox next month, the pair do so knowing that they will be adhering to a new set of rules. No longer will either be subject to the days of yo-yoing back and forth between the major and the minor leagues. For a refreshing change of pace, their destiny for the upcoming season and beyond will be determined by whether the parent club sees fit to include them on the active roster.
Otherwise, it’s off to the waiver wire, and with it, the chance of latching on with another club.
“My mindset is to go in and have a good spring and try to convince them that they need me on the team,” said Atchison, who over the past two seasons has logged 107 appearances between Boston and Pawtucket. “If that doesn’t work, things will obviously be a little different. They just can’t send me down because there’s a chance somebody could pick me up.”
The same predicament holds true for Bowden, who during the 2011 season was subjected to four call-ups from Pawtucket with three return trips to Triple A. Atchison’s name was also in heavy rotation on the transaction wire, the 35-year-old righty summoned six times to Boston was farmed out in five instances. In an ironic twist, the two were swapped out for one another on two occasions, Atchison replacing Bowden on June 24 and Bowden taking the place of Atchison on Aug. 27.
Both players-in-question have outgrown the criteria used to determine just how long a particular player has options available. Generally a player runs out of options when he’s been included on the 40-man roster during three different seasons, the beauty of the rule being that a MLB team can send a player back and forth without limit during a given season and it only counts as one option.
Once that final option year has been utilized, the player can be returned to the minor leagues only on a rehab assignment or if his club first places him on waivers, an open-market process that makes him available to the other 29 teams.
“It’s unfortunate for guys like me and (Atchison) that we’re in this position, but that’s part of the game,” Bowden said. “To play for a team like the Red Sox, they have the ability to do stuff like that. We go up and down but it’s no big deal. We’ll eventually get our opportunity and hopefully when that time comes, I’ll be able to take advantage of it.”
Bowden, a starter-turned-reliever who underwent the conversion during the 2010 season, believes being devoid of options is something that can work to the 25-year-old’s advantage.
“For the first time, I feel I have a strong chance of making the team out of spring training,” expressed the 2005 supplemental first-round pick of Boston’s before explaining why. “Not only am I confident in my abilities, but because I don’t have any options left, [the Red Sox] have to make a decision.”
Such judgment could stem from how Bowden and Atchison, still listed on the 40-man roster despite the BoSox declining to pick up his 2012 option, perform under the warm March sun in Fort Myers, Fla. With the back end of Boston’s bullpen undergoing a makeover with the acquisitions of closer Andrew Bailey and setup man Mark Melancon, the greatest source of intrigue during spring training promises to be who emerges as the team’s long-relief option. Such competition figures to encompass virtually all of Grapefruit League play and include many an opportunity for the likes of Atchison and Bowden to state their case.
There’s also the chance, depending on how Bobby Jenks progresses after recently undergoing a second corrective procedure on his spin, that additional bullpen slot could open up, a development which figures to work in Atchison’s and Bowden’s favor.
“I’ve seen the Red Sox do this with a number of guys during the past few years, but I’m not going to change a thing. I’m going to go into spring training and do as well as I can. Whatever happens happens,” Bowden said. “I have confidence in my ability that for some reason if the Red Sox don’t deem me in their plans, I’ll be able to pitch for a lot of other clubs.”
Added Atchison, “When it comes time for the Red Sox to make a decision, hopefully I’ve done enough for them to keep me because Boston is where I want to be and hopefully be a part of something special this year.
“You’ve just got to mix everything together,” Atchison went on. “It’s still only spring training and you’re getting everything fine-tuned to try and get ready for the season, but being in a position to win a job and prove what you can do, it’s a balance you have to find.”