The end of October is near and with it means the free agency market is set to open short..."/> The end of October is near and with it means the free agency market is set to open short..."/>

Offseason Changes: Let Jonathan Papelbon Walk?


The end of October is near and with it means the free agency market is set to open shortly.  While the Red Sox continue to fill vacant positions, there will be some key free agents that will be key for this club to sign in order to make a run at the AL East division next season.

As the examination continues on offseason changes that the Red Sox either need to make or should consider making, the next player to throw under the microscope is Jonathan Papelbon

The firey, amplified closer who can slow the game to a molasses trickle, is coming off a rebound year that saw him regain his dominate form and be able to shut the door in a tight ballgame.

But as he’s stated in the past, Papelbon is very interested to see what the free agency market can bring.  Do the Red Sox open the wallet and give Paps the high priced contract in order to keep him in Boston?  Let’s dig in and find out.

Entering the 2011 season there was a lot of concern and question marks surrounding Papelbon.  The 2010 campaign wasn’t his best, in fact statistically it was the worst of his six year’s as the Red Sox closer.  In every major stats category, Papelbon set career worst and the biggest one was his blown saves.  Paps blew 8 saves a year ago which helped lead to a bloated ERA of 3.90.  His AVG and WHIP were also above his career average and he walked 28 batters, four higher than in 2009.

With one more year on his contract, it appeared that 2011 was no doubt his last year in Boston.  But like so many other professional athletes when they’re in their last year of their contract, Papelbon took his game to the next level.  The level that Red Sox Nation became accustomed to see for so many years.

Aside from game 162, Papelbon had saved 31 of 33 opportunities.  Sure he blew the last game of the year, but too many innings in the previous five days no doubt led to a fatigued arm.  Throw in the fact that it wasn’t meant to be for this Red Sox team and the last blown save doesn’t overshadow what he did this year.

Don’t forget this is the same closer that threw 22 scoreless innings, a feat that spanned from July 17 to September 20.  It was 20 appearances that Paps never allowed a single run.  That’s pretty impressive.

When you look at the current situation in the Red Sox bullpen, the water is definetly muddy in terms of who or if someone else is ready to step up and become the new closer in Beantown.

Daniel Bard was and most likely still is the front runner should Papelbon not return.  Bard has been groomed for the past three seasons to ultimately step in and take over the role when this time came around.  But Bard has been a little shaky, most noticably in the early months and of course in September.  But similar to Papelbon, Bard had a long stretch in which he never allowed an earned run. 

Bobby Jenks was brought in last offseason to be a utility setup man and also be ready to close out games should Papelbon have faltered.  An injury riddled year never really allowed Jenks to get going and with one year remaining on his deal, Jenks could prove to be a free agent signing bust.

Much has been made about Alfredo Aceves and whether or not he should remain in the bullpen or convert to a starter.  Aceves proved this year he is most valuable out of the bullpen but be available to make some spot starts.  So considering how badly this team needs starting pitching, you can count Aceves out for the closer role. 

The best play for this club is to resign Papelbon and keep him Boston for years to come.  Soon to be 31 years of age, Papelbon has proven he can do this role for the next 4-5 years which is exactly what Boston should sign him to.  Loosen the purse strings and pay the man.

Papelbon and his agent Scott Boras (cue the Darth Vader entrance music) will be looking for a range of $14-$17 million a year and no question want a long term deal.  He wants Rivera money which is around $15 million per season and will most likely get it.  Some team will offer to overpay him for his services and although Paps has stated it isn’t about the money, he’ll most likely get close to what he’s asking for.

Recently the Baton Rouge native has said he just wants to go to a team that gives him the best chance of winning a championship.  Ummm, hello, isn’t Boston set up pretty well to take a run at winning for the next few years?  Sure there are issues that need to be sorted out, but if the Washington Nationals offer $15 million a year for 5 years would Papelbon take it?  Highly doubtful that the Nats are closer to putting a contender on the field than the Red Sox are.

Papelbon may have picked a tough year to test free agency, given the amount of other high end closers are available.  Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Valverde, Joe Nathan, Francisco Cordero and Brad Lidge are some of the top relievers in the game who are also eligible for free agency.  All these men could dent the market for Papelbon when it comes to dollars and years in his contract. 

While Papelbon is probably in the top three of those mentioned, he may not be for everyone.  His wild ways and strange behaviors are surely to raise a few questions of some of the interested teams, including Boston.

In the end, Papelbon has a fit with the Red Sox.  He’s once again proven he can be the shut down man in a meat grinder division and the Red Sox are a better team with him.

Ben Cherington, who is expected to be named the new GM of the Sox will have his hands full in his first few months on the job.  I put resigning Papelbon as priority number one or two.  Paps may be wild and crazy, but he gets the job done consistently.  Something that the Red Sox were missing in the last month of the season.

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