Closing Time: Continuity in the Bullpen Is Vital To Sox Success in '11

Andrew PapileContributor IIJanuary 1, 2011

Jonathan Papelbon looks to remain entrenched as the Sox closer in 2011.
Jonathan Papelbon looks to remain entrenched as the Sox closer in 2011.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With the new addition of former Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Jenks and a great 2010 from Daniel Bard, there has been a lot of speculation as to what will happen with Jonathan Papelbon.  There has been much talk of a trade, as Paps will likely test the market and walk after the season.  While these three arms could each close for the Sox in ’11 and see tremendous results, the team is best served with Papelbon remaining on the roster closing games. 

Bobby Jenks didn’t have the most encouraging final season in Chicago.  Fellow White Sox relievers Matt Thornton and Chris Sale both saw time at closer after Jenks had been relieved of that duty multiple times.  This resulted in heated confrontations between Jenks and manager Ozzie Guillen.  However, Jenks removal from the closer position may have been well deserved for the way Jenks was pitching at the time.  He saw the highest ERA of his career at 4.44 and the second highest WHIP at 1.367.  His 1-3 record was also the worst of his career, although closers aren’t necessarily judged off of stellar records.  While Jenks should be motivated coming into a new team and to prove the White Sox wrong, he may also question his ability to close games based on how he was jerked back in forth in Chicago.  Jenks serves the Sox best as a set up man in 2011.

In his first full season in a Red Sox uniform in 2010, Bard put up glistening numbers.  His 1.93 ERA in 74.2 innings was among the lowest on the team and he struck out 76 batters while recording a 1.004 WHIP.  These numbers had many fans feeling that if Bard was to close in 2011, the Sox wouldn’t lose anything if Papelbon was to be moved.  While Bard’s off speed pitches developed tremendously last season, one more year as a prime set up man would do Bard a lot of good.  Bard’s breaking pitches are still a work in progress.  Although his slider and curve were rather devastating in 2010, flying in at 83 MPH after a 99 MPH heater, these pitches will need to be perfected if he is to continue his current dominance as the team’s closer.    

While there is no question that he is being groomed as the closer of the future, the addition of Jenks adds some security to Bard’s situation.  If he should struggle in his second full season, Bard can be pushed up a little in the bullpen and Jenks can take over as the primary setup man, taking some pressure off of Bard.  The same can be said with newly signed Dan Wheeler.  These two signings provide depth to the Sox bullpen that wasn’t present in 2010, and it should only help Daniel Bard’s development.

With such viable closing options other than Jonathan Papelbon on the roster, continuity will be the most important thing in 2011.  One of the only things that could truly derail this team is a stirrup and inconsistency in the bullpen.  Despite a plethora of injuries last season, a shaky bullpen was arguably just as important of a factor in the Sox missing out on October baseball in 2010.  That is why it is important that Jonathan Papelbon remains the closer in 2011.

Dealing Papelbon at this point likely wouldn’t bring in a fair enough return to justify dealing him.  Paps is coming up on the last year of his contract, and he will likely make upwards of $13 million in his final season.  There aren’t many teams that can afford to take a $13 million chance on a one year closer.  The teams that can already sport names such as Rivera, Rodriguez, Marmol , and Feliz in their closer slot.  Papelbon is among a group of other Sox players who will hopefully perform at their highest level as they are in contract years.  If he can revert to his 2009 form and forget about 2010, Papelbon should remain a solid closing option for the Sox in 2011.  If it he somehow is worse this season than last, the Sox have padded themselves with the security to have Bard or Jenks close and move Paps to a setup role.  But this shift should only take place if it is 100 percent necessary.  Hopefully the new, added depth won’t cause manager Terry Francona to make a quicker shift if Paps should struggle.

Papelbon needs to remain the team’s closer for the 2011 season.  Shuffling the bullpen and assigning the closer role to a pitcher in Jenks who shaky last season, or a youngster in Bard who has never closed regularly before, is something that the Sox don’t need right now.  This team has a chance to make waves and compete for a World Series in 2011, and the bullpen is an integral factor in accomplishing this goal.  The Sox have done well to rebuild the pen, and keeping Papelbon as the closer will solidify the pen as one of the best in the A.L.  

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