Speculating on Jonathan Papelbon's future with the Boston Red Sox has been a bit of a pet interest of mine. I wrote an article about him for my college newspaper after the 2009 season. I wrote about Papelbon again last December here on Bleacher Report.
I feel I was shortsighted in my most recent article. I speculated that Papelbon stood a good chance at getting traded this summer at the trade deadline if both he and Daniel Bard were pitching well. Papelbon pitching well would maximize his trade value, and Bard pitching well would give the Red Sox the depth and confidence to trade away a top-name reliever.
What was I thinking?
Yes, both Paps and Bard are pitching well, but, at least at this juncture, virtually no one else is. And therein lies the heart of the Papelbon issue.
Matt Albers? Yes, he certainly has been a pleasantly surprise with his 1.65 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He has over twice as many strikeouts (16) as walks (six). All of those numbers, however, are far off from his career figures. Matt Albers is going to fall back to earth at some point.
No, despite the success of Albers and even the reliability of the resurgent Hideki Okajima, the Red Sox bullpen has been dealt serious blows by the twin failures of Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks.
The offseason addition of Jenks, in particular, raised questions about the future of the Boston closer role and the overall future of Papelbon. And look at Jenks now, riding the 15-day DL with his nine earned runs allowed in 11 appearances. Wheeler, of course, is no better.
Meanwhile, Papelbon and Bard are carving up hitters. They have combined for 38 appearances, a 2.72 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.
Pitching of this caliber was expected from Bard. Numbers this good from Papelbon, however, were not as sure a thing.
In 2009, Papelbon posted a good ERA (1.85) and got his saves in. However, his WHIP (1.14) was easily his highest in any of full seasons in the Majors. Last year, it felt like the wheels were coming off for the once-dominant Papelbon. His WHIP jumped even higher, to 1.27, and as his ERA surged to 3.90.
Papelbon is cruising at the present. His 11.50 SO/BB ratio would be a career-best if he is able to maintain it.
Boston may very well elect to let Papelbon walk after this season. But the lack of relief depth after him and Bard makes it very hard for GM Theo Epstein to justify moving him during the season—even for a good offer.