Name: Jonathan Papelbon
Position: Right-handed relief pitcher.
Transactions: Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 4th round of the 2003 MLB Draft.
Agent: Sam and Seth Levinson.
Might he return to the Red Sox? Yes.
Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; Philadelphia Phillies; New York Mets; Florida Marlins; Los Angeles Dodgers.
Despite the disappointing way the Red Sox season ended and that Papelbon was on the mound for that ending, he had a fantastic year in 2011 and was gutting his way through the frenetic final few weeks trying to save the Red Sox season literally and figuratively.
He has a dazzling array of power stuff with a fastball that reaches the high-90s, a slider and a split-finger fastball and racks up the strikeouts; he only allowed 3 homers in 64 innings and struck out 87; he throws strikes and only walked 10 batters all season.
Papelbon has come through in the post-season putting him in the class with Mariano Rivera as a closer you can trust not to be overwhelmed by the moment in a big game.
He’ll very occasionally have a bad game in which he gets blasted; in those games, he’ll give up multiple runs and these poor performances will make his numbers look far worse than they would normally.
Apart from that, I don’t see any negatives for Papelbon.
What he’ll want: 4-years, $60 million.
What he’ll get: 3-years, $42 million and a mutual option for a 4th year at $15 million.
Teams that might give it to him: Red Sox; Blue Jays; Rangers; Phillies; Mets; Marlins; Dodgers.
Papelbon is at a disadvantage because of the belief that closers as easily created and replaceable; that’s where the Red Sox current needs, new front office regime and whether or not they’ll pay homage to stat-based theory may collide.
It was the closer-by-committee that cost the Red Sox the 2003 pennant more than anything Grady Little did. They rectified the situation in 2004 by signing Keith Foulke, essentially paying him $20 million for one good, healthy season—and it was worth it as they won the 2004 World Series; they intended to use the closer-by-committee again in 2007 and were being hard-headed to a remarkably self-destructive degree before Papelbon went to the club and asked to return to the bullpen after the experiment with him being a starter that spring.
Will the Red Sox pay Papelbon? Or will they let him leave?
It’s not an easy choice for new GM Ben Cherington and the call could ruin his tenure before it even begins.
Of course the “anyone can close” concept is somewhat true in the case of the mediocre to slightly above-average closers like Heath Bell and Brian Fuentes, but Papelbon is several notches above those types of pitchers for the reasons stated above.
The Yankees pay Rivera because he’s the best; a team who needs a legitimate closer should pay Papelbon because he’s slightly below Rivera on the top level of late-inning relievers.
Whether there will be a team that makes that determination and gives him the money remains to be seen; I say there will be a bidding war for Papelbon when the other names—Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez and Bell—fall into place.
He’s the absolutely perfect addition for the Blue Jays to take the next step into serious contention. There’s been talk that the organization is gun-shy to pay for a closer after the way B.J. Ryan‘s contract degenerated into a disaster when he needed Tommy John surgery and wasn’t able to return to form.
The comparison is ridiculous.
Ryan had what might be one of the worst sets of mechanics I’ve ever seen in my life; he used a short-arm delivery, threw across his body and landed on a stiff front leg. He was destined to get injured.
Papelbon uses his legs and has a clean motion.
Any pitcher can get hurt, but if Papelbon does, it’s not a foreseeable happenstance that should dissuade a club from signing him for that reason and that reason alone.
Would I sign Papelbon? Absolutely.
Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that is perceived as “overpaying” for a closer in a market flush with them? No. Papelbon will deliver the goods.