PAWTUCKET – If recent history is any sort of indication regarding the Red Sox’s handling of minor league players with opt-out clauses written into their contracts, then expect pitcher Aaron Cook to head up to Boston next week.
A few examples come to mind when analyzing how the BoSox prefer to receive some sort of return investment rather than letting the player-in-question walk away scot-free. In 2010, Alan Embree had the option of exploring opportunities elsewhere should Boston have elected not to call up the reliever by April 15. The deadline was extended a few days, but eventually Embree landed a bullpen job with the Red Sox.
That same season saw Boston pull the trigger on Joe Nelson, another veteran arm who received his big-league summons roughly 10 days before his June 1 deadline. With Andrew Miller, Boston used last season’s June 15 opt-out date as a means to reach a handshake agreement in order to prevent the lefty from testing the free agent waters. Staying to true their word, the Sox awarded Miller with a starting assignment against San Diego June 20.
Next Tuesday marks the deadline for the Red Sox to pull the trigger on Cook. Originally the 33-year-old was slated to start Sunday’s game for the PawSox in Columbus. Instead Cook will now face the Clippers Saturday. That would allow him to stay on his normal five-day rotation, which in turn would set up a scenario where Cook starts for Boston on Friday, May 4 at Fenway Park against Baltimore.
Reached earlier this week, Joe Bick, the agent for Cook, says the dialogue between himself and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington continues to be frank and honest. Regarding his client, Bick added that no resolution has been reached and probably won’t be until the closer it gets to the May 1 deadline.
“Obviously we hope the result over the next few days is the fact that he ends up in Boston. That was the whole purpose of him being (in Pawtucket),” said Bick via cell phone. “I think he’s done everything he can possibly do to convince them that he belongs.”
Speaking about Cook and the specific date that was placed in his pact with Boston, Bick remarked, “We just wanted to have as many options open to ourselves as possible. I don’t specifically mean options that are written into a contract. We also have an (opt-out date) for June 1, but I think Aaron has proven that he’s ready to go.”
While the numbers back up Bick’s claim regarding Cook’s performance in a PawSox uniform, perhaps the most encouraging sign is that he’s made every one of his scheduled starts. Remember, this is someone who has dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons and was placed on a shoulder strength program during spring training that put him a week or two behind the other pitchers in Boston’s camp.
“Anytime you have concerns about health history, you’ve got to go out and prove to people that you’re not dealing with those issues any more,” Cook stated. “I feel like I’ve been able to put (those worries) behind me.”
To date, Cook has made four starts with Pawtucket, compiling a 3-0 mark with a 1.33 ERA in 27 innings. He’s pitched seven or more innings on three occasions while holding opponents to a .219 average. His pitch count has steadily gone up from the 85 he threw his first start (April 7) to the current high-water mark of 93, which was reached Monday against Durham.
“I’ve felt pretty good and have done everything so far that I need to do,” Cook said. “I’ve gotten my inning count and pitch count up. Plus I’ve been able to command my fastball and get groundball outs and let the defense play behind me.”
Said Bick, “If you look at the results, you can tell that the ball is moving like he wants it to. That was his goal and certainly I think he’s reached that point.”
Even though he’s the one holding all the cards, Cook isn’t tipping his hand one way or the other about his future plans. Certainly the Red Sox have to iron out what exactly Daniel Bard’s role will entail, be it either a starter or a bullpen guy. Yet you could make the case that the team would be better served with Bard closing out games, which in turn would allow Cook to make a seamless transition to become the club’s No. 5 starter.
Regardless, the ball is now in Boston’s court with Cook waiting to see if they adhere to past practices and call him up.
“I feel like I’ve done what I need to do no matter where I’m at,” Cook said. “When it comes time to make a decision, that’s when the decision will be made.”