According to WAPT reporter Mike Perchick, the Chicago Cubs have signed former set-up man Daniel Bard to a minor league contract for the upcoming 2015 season. The deal includes an invite to spring training where Bard will have the chance to resurrect his career and help strengthen a bullpen that scuffled in 2014. If Bard makes the Major League roster he’ll earn a base salary of $1 million for the season, along with incentives based off of how many appearances he makes.
The story of Daniel Bard has been a complicated one since he first appeared in the majors back in 2009. When Bard first got called up to the Red Sox he showed the potential to be a great late inning guy thanks to his fastball and nasty slider. In 2009 Bard would be very solid out of the Sox bullpen posting a 3.65 ERA and gradually working himself up to the point where he’d take over 8th inning duties. By the end of the season it had seemed as if the Red Sox had formed one of the most dominant late inning duos in the MLB. Many fans even began to view Bard as a future closer if he continued to grow and improve like did throughout the season.
Bard would compete in his first full season in 2010 where he would not only stun the Red Sox but the entire league. In 73 games Bard would compile an insane 1.93 ERA while continuing to improve on both his control and feel for pitching. Over a little more then a season and a half Bard had not only become the most dominant reliever in the Sox bullpen, but one of the most across the entire league. He was so good that Terry Francona at times overused him because of how dominant he was on a consistent basis, many scouts began to fear he was being overworked though and questioned Francona’s methods. It had seemed as if the Red Sox had developed another young star at the time joining the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.
2011 was when Bard’s career began to go down a complicated path. In his first 51 appearances on the season Bard continued to be the one of the most dominant relievers in the league registering a cool 1.76 ERA and being a workhorse in the Red Sox bullpen. He would scuffle a bit in August but many overlooked it believing Bard was just a bit tired from his workload throughout the season, but then the disaster of September 2011 happened. A Red Sox team that had looked like possible World Series contenders completely collapsed. During that month Bard would post an ugly 10.64 ERA while beginning to struggle with control again, something that had been an issue for Bard when he was coming up through the minors. But that month everyone played awful, so many believed Bard would be back to his old self when the 2012 season came around.
Prior to the 2012 season the Red Sox hired manager Bobby Valentine which kicked off this whole dysfunctional season. Bard had voiced his opinion saying that he’d like to take a shot at starting again, and the Red Sox were in need of starting pitching so they gave him a shot. The idea of doing that was an idiotic one though, Bard had originally been a starter when he was first drafted but was converted to being a reliever because he didn’t have three solid pitches. In 17 games, 10 being starts, Bard posted a 6.22 ERA at the Major League level walking more batters then he struck out. During the season Bard was also sent down down to AAA for 31 games where he solely worked out of the bullpen. Down in Pawtucket he would post a 7.03 ERA, only getting called up towards the end of the season because the Red Sox were running out of bullpen options. Bard’s mechanics had seemed to be ruined along with his confidence, and it was like he had no idea where the ball was going when he threw it. Many hoped 2012 was just a bad year, and that in 2013 Bard would be back and ready to hold down the 8th inning once again.
As 2013 rolled around with new manager John Farrell many hoped he could help fix Bard’s mechanic and confidence issues but that didn’t end up being the case. In 16 games at AA,A-, and Rookie Ball Bard would post an ERA north of 6 once again just looking lost out their on the mound. It had seemed as if everything Bard had worked for was beginning to slowly fall apart as he continued to struggle. He would make 2 appearances in the majors for the 2013 Red Sox posting an ERA of 9.00 in the small sample size. Soon thereafter Bard would be designated for assignment by the Sox, but the Cubs and former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein claimed him. He would be non-tendered by them the following off-season making him a free agent for the first time in his crazy career.
Before signing with the Rangers that off-season on a minor league deal, Bard would have Thoracic Syndrome Surgery which was suppose to help him regain the feel he use to have when pitching. Bard had believed the surgery would help correct the loss of velocity and control he suffered the past few seasons, but that didn’t end up happening. In four appearances at A- ball in 2014, Bard would allow 13 runs in only 0.2 innings of work. During that span he would hit 7 batters and walk 9 others, it had seemed as if Bard’s career was coming to an unfortunate close. The Rangers said goodbye to Bard on June 19th by releasing him, he wouldn’t be picked up by anyone else for the rest of the season.
The Cubs signing of the now 29 year old righty is likely his last chance at playing professional baseball before all teams deem him just another lost cause. He likely will have to not only prove himself in spring training but also in the minors before getting an opportunity to even pitch at the Major League level. It doesn’t hurt to give Bard another chance in all reality though, if he continues to be a mess he’ll just be released once again and the Cubs won’t suffer any penalty. But if he can return to anything that even resembles his former elite set-up man days, he could be a steal for an upcoming team like the Cubs. It would be a shame to see a career that once showed so much promise just thrown away and wasted. He was nothing short of a class act during his time in Boston, and I for sure hope this opportunity with the Cubs helps him regain his former confidence and saves his career.