The Red Sox need to explore the possibility of trading Jonathan Papelbon this off-season.
Now considering his statistics this season, you must think i'm insane for even asking the Sox to do this.
He is having another great season where he's fourth in the American League in saves and has an ERA of 1.87. He will again have another year with more strikeouts than innings pitched, and will probably pass his career high of 41 saves and keep his ERA under 3.00.
But Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman excluded, closers have a limited amount of time where they are in their prime. At 28 years old and in his 5th year in the major leagues, Papelbon is in the early middle of his prime now.
While he is having another great season, there are a few things to be alarmed about, most notably, the number of walks that he has given up and the inability to avoid pitching himself into jams.
While the latter may not be noticeable on a national scene to fans and analysts not regularly covering the Sox, it is becoming something to worry about as he has pitched himself into and out of bases loaded situations nine times this season. He has a flair for the dramatic as he has faced 15 batters with the bases loaded, striking out 10 of them and only allowing one hit with no walks.
This year, he has walked 24 batters in 57.2 innings while last year, he only walked eight batters in 69.1 innings. These are numbers that shouldn't be that concerning unless there was a trend spanning multiple seasons. One season with a few inflated statistics is not a reason to trade away one of the best players on the team.
So again, why trade Jonathan Papelbon?
Papelbon is making $6,250,000 million this season and is eligible for arbitration after this season and after next. With the numbers that he has put up over fives years, the last four as the closer, he will argue for and rightfully deserve $10 million for next season.
If the Red Sox don't have an interest in trading him and choose to try to sign him to a contract rather than take the inevitable arbitration loss, they are going to probably be looking at a four year contract (the Red Sox don't like five year contracts) in the range of $10-$12 million per season.
Papelbon reportedly turned down a two year contract offer in the $16,000,000 million range prior to this season; so it is a fair assumption that two years is not enough and $8 million per season is not enough. He turns 29 this November, so at the end of a four year contract he will be 33 years old which is creeping dangerously close to old for a closer.
Papelbon made some comments in June to SiriusXM radio which raised an eyebrow for many Red Sox fans when asked if he could play for the Yankees when he becomes a free agent.
He is still loved at Fenway Park, but it opened the door for fans to realize that he may not be here forever, and he is willing to commit cardinal sin number one or better called "Pull a Johnny Damon".
"Oh, of course," Papelbon said on the Jody McDonald show. "I mean, I think if we can't come to an agreement on terms here in a Red Sox uniform, I mean I think that's pretty much the writing on the wall. If they can't come to terms with you they're letting you know that, 'Hey you know what? We can go somewhere else' and I think it's the same way on the other side, 'Hey if ya'll can't come to an agreement with me then I can go somewhere else.'
"Not only the Bronx, but anywhere. I think anywhere is a possibility. You always have to keep that in the back of your mind because you can't just be one-sided and think that, 'Oh I'm going to be in a Red Sox uniform my entire career,' because nowadays that is very, very rare and hopefully we can because there's no question I would love to stay in a Boston Red Sox uniform but I have to do what's best for me and play in an atmosphere where I'm wanted and play on a team where I'm wanted and that's all I can really say about that, you know?"
How could the Red Sox possibly replace Papelbon?
Daniel Bard is a very exciting closer in waiting. He is also a very inexperienced closer in waiting. Papelbon had only one season as a setup man to Keith Foulke before he masterfully took over the closing duties, which could be very similar to Bard if Papelbon is traded. The only thing fans wonder is whether the Red Sox can catch lightning in a bottle twice.
Bard could be eased into the closer role if Wagner pitches successfully during this seasons stretch run and is resigned after this season. The Red Sox have agreed not to pick up Wagner's option, but due his age and recent surgery, it can be assumed that he will not be pursued for the $10,500,000 million he is making this year; but rather for something in the $5,000,000-$8,000,000 million range for one season.
In a scenario such as this, Wagner can be the closer, but not being able to pitch everyday Bard could be eased in for 10-15 saves.
No Red Sox fan will be upset if Papelbon is not traded because he is the best Red Sox closer since Dick Radatz. Nobody would argue that Bob Stanley, Lee Smith, Bill Campbell, Keith Foulke, Jeff Reardon or any other Red Sox closer compare in any way to Papelbon. Even if he is the best, it is better to get something for him than to let him walk, especially if they have a potential replacement ready.
Since Papelbon still has one more arbitration eligible season, there will not be a better time to trade him than this off-season. After next season, he will still be valuable, but not as valuable because he would be playing one season and then could potentially leave after one season.
If any team acquires him after this year, than he is committed to two seasons.
Let's see how this all plays out