In their 111-year history, the Boston Red Sox had never had a closer as good as Jonathan Papelbon (OK, technically they had Dennis Eckersley, but in eight years with the Sox he recorded only one of his 390 career saves).
In seven seasons, Papelbon recorded a franchise-record 219 saves, with a 2.33 ERA and 1.018 WHIP. He rebounded well in 2011, after a disastrous 2010 campaign that saw him blow eight saves and his ERA jump to 3.90.
The season ended on a sour note, though, as Pap blew the save in the final game of the season to send the Sox out. The team has been eliminated on a Papelbon blown save in two of the last three seasons.
Last week, he signed a four-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving the Sox with a vacancy at the back of the bullpen. Daniel Bard could fill it but his long stretches of dominance last year were interrupted by absolutely disastrous outings. He might be viewed as too volatile to be the everyday closer.
The Sox have another option in-house in Bobby Jenks. His questionable health and terrible second half will probably scupper any chances he has of returning to the role he held in Chicago.
Free agency holds a few decent options, with Heath Bell topping the list. He has been excellent in the last three years for San Diego, saving over 40 games each season.The biggest downside is his age. At 34, he is already on the back nine, and as the best free agent closer available, he will be able to demand multiple years. The potential of having a 37-year-old stopper will worry Cherington.