May 14, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) delivers to the plate during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Indians 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Shipping Back Up to Boston: Could Papelbon Solve Bullpen Woes?


As Paul Prims wrote here, the Sox bullpen is in a state of flux: filled with injury, inexperience and inconsistency. What had once been arguably the Red Sox’ biggest strength now looked like the weak link in an already strained chain.

April 13, 2013; Boston, MA USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan (52) walks to the dugout after being relieved during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In each of the past two off seasons Ben Cherington has swung a deal for an all-star closer, snagging Andrew Bailey from Oakland in 2011 and Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh this past winter. It’s safe to say that neither of these deals has worked out the way Ben envisioned, with Bailey being injured most of last year, and currently on the 15-day DL with a biceps strain, and Hanrahan on the 60-day DL with a torn flexor tendon. At least Bailey had been relatively effective before his injury, a claim we can’t make about Hanrahan’s tenure in Boston.

Unfortunately, one way to solve the bullpen problem is to feed Ben Cherington’s addiction to trading for high-powered closers, and now is the perfect opportunity to bring back Jonathan Papelbon. Pap is currently the Red Sox franchise record holder in saves, sitting at a gaudy 219, some 87 saves ahead of Bob Stanley. For six years, Papelbon nailed down the 9th inning for the Sox, resulting in four straight all-star berths from 2006-2009. Games were all but over when “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” started blaring over the PA.

Some people thought that CincoOcho wasn’t worth the four years and $50 million that the Phillies dished out, and truth be told, he probably wasn’t. But consider that the Sox are now paying $11.14 million for two all-stars who are currently sitting on the bench, only slightly less than Papelbon’s $13 million. With Hanrahan’s seven-and-change million coming off the books after this year, it would be more than feasible for the Sox to take on the Louisiana native’s contract.

The Phillies are mired in a long slump, and unless they turn it around soon, GM Ruben Amaro might be forced to sell off some of the more expensive and/or aging pieces. With a barren farm system, and an increasingly bleak outlook for the season, now is a prime time for the Phils to deal their closer. Luckily for Ben, the Phillies aren’t in a position to demand as much as the Athletics did, and they could even be looking at less than what the Pirates received for Hanrahan. Papelbon’s contract is expensive for a team that could be looking to rebuild, and the Sox are in a position to take his contract, further lessening the Phillies leverage. If Philidelphia continues its decline, and the Sox want to prolong their stay near the top of the AL east, they would be wise to find a way to swing a deal for their own former all-star.

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Tags: Boston Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon

  • David

    They sure could use Papelbon, their closer situation is brutal. Hopefully they’ll find someone.

  • Little Alex

    Research much? The Phillies are currently 19-21 and only 3.5 games out of first place in the NL East. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Hardly a prolonged slump. Oh, and Papelbon is 7 for 7 in save opportunities and has a 1.08 ERA. He would have several more saves, if the Phillies would stop their annoying habit of scoring just enough runs in the 8th inning to eliminate the opportunity for a save (they have done this at least 3 times so far this season). For a Boston fan, it’s a lovely thought. However, reality must intrude on your little fairy tale.

    • Harry Burnham

      Apologies, slump may not have been the right choice of words. But the Phillies havent been quite the powerhouse they imagined, and several of their cornerstones at least appear to be on the way out. But I also meant not just this season, but also last year when Philly finished 17 games back of first.
      It’s a good thought, and it could also prove a shrewd baseball decision should Amaro get the right stuff back from Boston.

      • Little Alex

        Yes, they finished 17 games out with both Utley and Howard on the DL for an extended period. Lately, they have been playing much better, and if they stay healthy (granted, a big IF), they could be in it all season. I do agree that if they tank, there WILL be a fire sale.

    • Harry Burnham

      But for clarification, I think youre probably right, and this isnt anything more than a pipe dream for Boston. As you said the Phillies arent that far out of it yet. I think we might look for them to have a mini-firesale closer to July if they slip farther out of contention, but for now, theyll hang on the their pieces.

  • Rick M

    Bailey has actually done rather well in limited duty. And why would Philly even trade? I’d be rather reluctant to dish out the prospects they would require for such a transaction. Then the assumption would be Papelbon’s desire to return.

    • Harry Burnham

      Hi RickBailey HAS been pretty good this year, but last year was a catastrophe. I am completely comfortable with him going forward.
      As youll notice in my conversation below, Philly wont sell unless they drop well out of contention, which is a possibility for everyone come July.
      The prospect thing is a sticking point, but Philly wouldnt have too much leverage if they were selling, especially if the sox pick up the tab.
      As for his desire, hes got a 12-team no trade… the sox may or may not be on it. and often times guys only include big market teams to create leverage for themselves, to gain an extension or what have you, and will usually accept a trade.
      Thanks!

      • John Fahrer

        They’d probably prefer to dump Lee’s salary (or at least most of it). The Sox should look into Lee and Michael Young before a Papelbon reunion. I personally believe a bullpen is only as good as the starters who proceed them. If they get more rest due to starters going deeper and bigger cushions provided by the offense, this bullpen will be fine. Use prospects for the pen but swing a trade for an established starter and maybe a dependable bat.