Red Sox, reliever Nelson agree to deal
Righty gets Minors contract with invitation to Spring Training
Joe Nelson has been fighting his entire Major League life.
Now, the veteran reliever will fight once more -- this time for a spot in the Red Sox's bullpen.
Nelson told MLB.com on Monday afternoon that he has reached agreement with Boston on a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. So now, after a journeyman career that has taken him through six organizations, a fair share of up-and-down trips between the Minor and Major Leagues and several stops at the operating table, Nelson will head to Fort Myers, Fla., in mid-February with a realistic chance to land a spot on potentially one of the best bullpens in the big leagues.
"Having to make a team is nothing new to me," Nelson said in a phone interview. "I welcome the competition, and I usually thrive in situations like that.
"For me, [Boston] just looked like the best place to have a legitimate fighting chance in Spring Training."
As of now, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez (the one who posted a 2.84 ERA in 70 games for the Red Sox last season) look to have solidified spots in Boston's bullpen.
With Michael Bowden likely to start the year as a starter for Triple-A Pawtucket, at least one spot in the 'pen is expected to be an open competition between the likes of Brian Shouse, Boof Bonser, the other Ramon Ramirez (the one claimed off waivers from the Rays in December) and now Nelson.
If neither Tim Wakefield nor Daisuke Matsuzaka -- two who are expected to compete for the fifth spot in the starting rotation -- evolve into relievers, it could be two spots.
In hopes of finding some low-risk, high-reward options for the bullpen, the Red Sox also attended Oscar Villarreal's throwing session on Friday, AOL FanHouse reported.
Nelson, who had a great year with the Marlins in 2008 but a rough one with the Rays in '09, said two or three other unidentified clubs were actively pursuing him. But he felt the best fit was in Boston.
"They're not bringing in a whole bunch of guys [to Spring Training]," Nelson said about his new team. "They have the two spots they're really looking at. They have internal depth, but not as much experience, and for me, I had multiple teams making multiple offers, and they just seemed like the best fit. Their payroll is stretched out pretty far, so I'm not as concerned about them going out and making any more huge acquisitions. So the guys I'm competing against are the guys they currently have, and they're non-roster invites."
Nelson was a member of the Red Sox from 2002-04 and made three appearances in the big leagues. But like most of his career, Nelson was plagued by injuries during that first tenure.
Since being a fourth-round Draft pick by the Braves in 1996, Nelson has spent the majority of a season in the Minors in nine of his 12 years as a professional pitcher.
He missed the entire 2003 and '07 seasons.
He's undergone four surgeries.
And this was his seventh Minor League contract.
His previous one came in '08, when he impressed in Spring Training with the Marlins and went on to sport a 2.00 ERA in 54 innings, striking out 60 batters and walking 22.
After being non-tendered the following offseason, 20-some teams were interested in Nelson, and he found a home with the Rays on a one-year, $1.3 million deal.
But a nightmarish May doomed him in 2009, as he spent all of August and September in the Minor Leagues, finished the year with a 4.02 ERA in 42 games and was unable to lock down a Major League contract this offseason.
But Nelson feels his 3.00 ERA in April, his 0.84 ERA in June and his 2.25 ERA in July should stand as the true measures of his talent -- not his 8.53 ERA in May.
"If you don't have a bad May, you're never having that conversation, and I'm still a member of the Rays," said Nelson, 7-2 with a 4.07 ERA in his career. "But that's the way the game is. I wish I could take back that month, but that's part of baseball. But I made some adjustments."
Now, Nelson -- implementer of the "Vulcan" pitch, a special moving changeup based off the hit show "Star Trek" -- will get yet another clean slate in his adventurous career.
"I'm very happy to be signed up with the Red Sox," he said, "and I'm looking forward to Spring Training to go out there and earn my way on that team."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.