Jonathan Papelbon Not the Only Solution to Red Sox's Closer Problem

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 21, 2013

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 20:  Closer Andrew Bailey #40 of the Boston Red Sox walks off the field after giving up a two-run home run to Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning to give the Tigers a 4-3 win at Comerica Park on June 20, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Andrew Bailey experience is over in Boston.

If you missed it, Bailey blew another save on Thursday night in Detroit against the Tigers. After allowing the leadoff man to reach via a walk, Bailey hung a breaking ball that Jhonny Peralta lined over the left-field wall for a two-run homer that sealed a 4-3 loss for the Red Sox.

Make it four blown saves for Bailey in 2013, including three in his last five appearances. He's also allowed six home runs, which is one more than he allowed in his Rookie of the Year season in 2009.

According to Evan Drellich of, Bailey's closing privileges have been revoked:

In related news, Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon might just be available in a trade this summer. If the Red Sox are looking to do something about their closer's role—and one assumes they are—he's an option.

It's just a good thing for them that he's not their only option. Or their best, for that matter.

Papelbon is undoubtedly going to be a popular name around water coolers in Boston for the next few weeks. He's an old friend of the organization, and he's a guy who surely would shore up the ninth inning if the Red Sox were to acquire him.

Papelbon is having a fine year for the Phillies with a 1.95 ERA and 14 saves in 16 opportunities. Most impressive of all is his 1.3 BB/9, which is on track to be his lowest since he posted a 1.0 BB/9 in 2008.

But here's tricky part No. 1: Papelbon would be an upgrade, but maybe not much of one. According to FanGraphs, his fielding-independent stats aren't nearly as good as his ERA. That tends to signal that regression is in the cards, and Papelbon is already starting to experience some with two blown saves in his last three outings.

And now for tricky part No. 2: Papelbon may not be available in the short run, and trading for him would mean taking on a long-run future that isn't very promising.

For all the chatter about Papelbon being on the trade block, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was adamant in comments to the Associated Press that he won't be trading either Papelbon or Cliff Lee this summer.

Amaro could be posturing, but he might actually be serious. The Phillies aren't going to win the World Series in 2013, but they do have to worry about negotiating a new TV deal in the near future. They stand a better chance of getting a big one if they have stars to market.

If the Phillies do trade Papelbon, they're going to want some value for him, and would presumably also want to eat as little of his contract as possible. It's not a small one either, as he's owed $13 million in 2014 and 2015 and has a $13 million vesting option for 2016.

Taking on a contract like that would help the Red Sox in the short term, but they'd soon be regretting it. A closer has to be really good to be worth even half the money Papelbon's making, and his chances of remaining very good aren't going to go up as his velocity continues to go down.

According to Baseball Info Solutions by way of FanGraphs, Papelbon's average fastball velocity has gone from 95.0 miles per hour in 2011 to 92.6 miles per hour this year. It first dropped to 93.8 miles per hour last year, making the trend out to be pretty clear.

If the Red Sox are going to explore the trade market for a solution, they'd be better off targeting Chicago White Sox right-hander Jesse Crain. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs urged all relief-needy teams to give Crain a look, and for good reason.

By fWAR, Crain is the best reliever in baseball. That adds up, given that he has a 0.57 ERA, a K/9 just short of 12.0 and an opponents' batting average of .188. Crain is also owed only $4.5 million this year and is a free agent at the end of the season. 

The other thing the Red Sox could do is keep it simple and just stay in-house. They may be out of proven closers to try out, but they've hardly exhausted their options.

If the idea is to put the game in the hands of your best reliever when the ninth inning rolls around, then the Red Sox have been doing it wrong all along. More than anyone else, Koji Uehara has been the guy wearing that particular hat.

Uehara has a 2.10 ERA and has 42 strikeouts to only seven walks in 32 innings. He's made 32 appearances and has only been scored on in five of them.

Per FanGraphs, Uehara also leads Red Sox relievers in Win Probability Added. It's a stat that measures how individual players alter their team's win expectancy, and it tends to favor relievers who do good work in high-stress innings.

WPA is as good as it gets for a testimony that Uehara can handle the ninth inning. And while it's true that the Red Sox don't like to use him on back-to-back days, that's not necessarily a deal-breaker. Per, only four teams have created fewer save opportunities than the Red Sox. They don't need a closer as often as other teams do.

If not Uehara, the Red Sox could always go back to Junichi Tazawa. He's yet another Red Sox reliever who is having a better year than Bailey both in the realm of traditional stats and WPA. Even Andrew Miller would be a decent option, as he helps make up for his walk problems by missing a ton of bats.

Down on the farm resides Rubby De La Rosa, whose fastball can flirt with the century mark. He's been working as a starter all season and has performed well in that role, but he's a guy who's been viewed as a potential closer ever since he first broke into the big leagues.

It's not a good situation that the Red Sox are in. Games lost in the ninth inning are never any fun, and that this is happening to the Red Sox feels like a cruel joke put on by the baseball gods. The Red Sox just seemed so set at the start of the season with Hanrahan and Bailey in tow, and now this.

But whether it's a blockbuster trade for Papelbon, a lesser trade for Crain or handing the keys over to Uehara, Tazawa, Miller or De La Rosa, the Red Sox are not without options. On top of that, it's only one inning. They've got the other eight pretty well covered.

The hole the Red Sox are in could be deeper.

Note: Stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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