Mujica offers Red Sox insurance policy
Reliever struggled at end of past season, but has closing experience
BOSTON -- One of the best moves the Red Sox made last winter was acquiring an effective reliever who could also serve as an insurance policy at closer. General manager Ben Cherington hopes that a similar strategy that led to Saturday's signing of righty Edward Mujica can pay similar dividends.
This isn't to say Mujica can be Koji Uehara, who wound up having perhaps the most dominant season of any closer in Red Sox history. But there are some similarities.
"Both guys have pitched both in the ninth inning and in other parts of the game successfully," said Cherington. "Both guys have been part of good teams and good bullpens and been on teams where, at least at the end of their tenure, someone else was closing and that perhaps made them available. They both have really good splits or changes. They both throw a lot of strikes. There's some similarities, but they're their own guys, too."
Uehara will be 37 next season and pitched deep into October. In other words, adding a 29-year-old righty with nasty stuff in Mujica makes a lot of sense.
"What we were hoping to do was add one more guy who could protect us at the back of the game, someone with experience doing that and success doing that, someone who we felt fit our profile and the type of guy who can succeed in our division," said Cherington.
Last season, Mujica was part of a Cardinals team that lost to the Red Sox in the World Series. By October, after a late-season slump had marginalized his role, Mujica had an inkling that his time in St. Louis was coming to an end.
"The one thing I was thinking about being with the Red Sox was having more opportunities to pitch," Mujica said. "I had a chance to talk to Ben Cherington, and he told me, 'We've got Koji, we've got [Junichi Tazawa] and a couple more guys,' but he told me, 'You did a pretty good job during the season. We need a guy like you to back them up.' He told me there could be some opportunities in the ninth. I'm going to be ready to go in that situation or whatever situation they want to put me in."
Without question, Uehara will start the season as Boston's closer. But if he needs a rest, or sustains any injuries, Mujica, who saved 37 games in 2013, is more than capable of stepping in.
"Edward was a guy we focused in on pretty quickly, in part because of who he is and in part because of what he does," Cherington said. "He's an extreme strike-thrower. He's aggressive. He's fearless. He's got a really solid assortment of pitches. He gets righties and lefties out. He's pitched, obviously, very successfully in the ninth inning but also before that. We just thought he was a really good fit for our team."
Above all else, Mujica, who signed for two years at $9.5 million, is a strike-throwing machine. His 5.15 career strikeout-to-walk ratio is tops in Major League history among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched, and he also has the lowest average of walks per nine innings among active pitchers with at least 400 innings at 1.39.
Perhaps Mujica can now win a ring with the team that stole one from him last season.
"It's unbelievable, to watch those guys playing so hard every single day," Mujica said. "They came from a rough year, then did it this year. That was unbelievable. That is the team when I talked to my agent, I was telling him if the Red Sox made me an offer, we want to keep an eye on it because I want to play for a team in the American League because I had been in the National League for so long. I told him, 'If I'm going to an American League team, if the Red Sox make an offer, I want to be a part of that team because they play very hard and have good guys on that team."'
As for Mujica's late-season fade, he contributes it to a troublesome groin injury and also some fatigue. He is fully confident it won't linger.
"There was nothing with my shoulder," Mujica said. "It was, you know, my neck [in addition to the groin]. I've been checking with the doctors and everything. I have a little bit of issue with my neck and just had it in the back. I never had something in my shoulders. I just had a little tightness in my neck. That was the tightness I got during the season because I think I was overworked. My shoulder is pretty fine, 100 percent. I can't wait to start Spring Training."
With Uehara, Tazawa, Mujica, Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller, the Red Sox have the makings of a solid bullpen.
And Mujica doesn't dispute how unique it is to join a team he just faced in the World Series, though he didn't get to pitch in the Fall Classic.
"That's unbelievable for me, but I'm so glad right now to this point because I'm going to be on a team that won the World Series and is going to be trying to get it done next year, too," Mujica said.