Papelbon was the club's all-time leader in saves and was a fan favorite over his entire tenure as a Red Sox player. This explains why many fans were upset after the Sox decided to let Papelbon walk following a monumental collapse.
However new GM Ben Cherington has worked some magic over the past couple of weeks and acquired two solid bullpen arms in Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon. This may prove to make the bullpen stronger than it was in 2011, a bullpen that included Papelbon and flame-throwing setup man, Daniel Bard.
With the acquisitions of Bailey and Melancon, Bard is now able to do what he had ultimately always wanted to do; start. Bard struggled down the stretch in 2011 and many called into question whether or not he was ready to take over closer duties as Papelbon exited.
With new manager Bobby Valentine in the mix, Bard is slated to begin Spring Training being groomed as a starting pitcher under new pitching coach, Bob McClure. This is expected to boost a Sox rotation that is without John Lackey and Daisuke Matsusaka, both of whom are recovering from Tommy John surgery. There will be little pressure on Bard being in the back end of the rotation, behind the likes of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett.
Will the Red Sox regret letting Papelbon leave?
Meanwhile, the bullpen will also be strong in 2012. Melancon was a bright spot on the dismal Houston Astros in 2011, recording 20 saves. It was his first season as a closer and he proved to be more than capable. However, with the recent addition of Bailey, Melancon will be asked to fill the void left by Bard in the setup roll. Melancon is 26 years old with only two years of big league experience, meaning he projects well long-term in this Red Sox bullpen.
Bailey is another huge addition for the Red Sox this offseason. Bailey is a two-time All-Star in just three Major League seasons. He had an injury-plagued campaign in 2011, which is some reason for concern. However looking back on Bailey's first two seasons in Oakland, it is apparent why the Red Sox went after him to replace Papelbon. Bailey was Rookie of the Year in 2009 and had All-Star seasons in '09 and 2010.
Another key factor in the Sox' acquisition of Bailey is the money. He is only in his first year of arbitration, which means the Red Sox will have him under their control for at least a couple of more seasons. He also only made $500,000 dollars last season in Oakland, way less then the $10-15 million that the Red Sox would be giving out on the open market. This allows the Sox to maybe use that money to go after another starting pitcher, such as Roy Oswalt or Hiroki Kuroda.
Since the Red Sox didn't give up top-tier prospects for Bailey and Melancon, with maybe the exception of Josh Reddick, they can now turn their attention to trading for a big-name starting pitcher like Chicago's Matt Garza or Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens.
These two moves have given the Red Sox a lot of flexibility this offseason. While the exit of Jonathan Papelbon hurt initially, it will be beneficial in the long run if the the Sox can add another starting pitcher and if Bailey can return to his All-Star form.