Alex Anthopoulos has a busy winter ahead of him.
Of the many questions he has to answer coming out of the 2011 season is what he does about the role of closer. While temporary solutions such as Kevin Gregg and Frank Francisco have performed the task adequately, if Toronto wants to challenge in the long term, Anthopoulos will have to look for a more permanent option.
In his six years in the Major Leagues, Papelbon has been one of the best closers in the game. In his Major League career, Papelbon has posted an ERA of 2.33 with a very impressive WHIP of 1.02, whilst recording at least 30 saves in each of his first six seasons.
His also has consistently high strikeout rates (10.7/9) and low walk totals (2.4/9). Papelbon has also shown that he can bounce back after a relatively poor 2010, posting some very impressive numbers around Boston’s extraordinary collapse.
Going by his career numbers, Papelbon would therefore be the perfect long-term solution in a position which Toronto has struggled to fill. Francisco did a decent job as closer in the second half, but he simply is not in the same class as Papelbon.
Papelbon would not only secure the ninth inning but he would be the kind of player Toronto could build the rest of the bullpen around. With Papelbon pitching the ninth, Casey Janssen could build on his good year by continuing in his role as set-up man. The Blue Jays' bullpen already has a better appearance to it.
Add in what should be a better starting rotation (with improved performances from Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek) and the possibility of adding another starter, and the Blue Jays' biggest problem area of 2011 becomes a lot stronger. It would also help the starters to know that they don’t have to pitch a complete game to pick up a win.
But there are some concerns with signing Papelbon.
He is going to be asking for a lot of money, and the Blue Jays only need to remember what happened with B.J. Ryan when giving a closer a large contract. However, Papelbon does not have the same kind of pitching motion which caused the injuries that ended Ryan’s effectiveness.
While Papelbon will not come cheap, Toronto’s owners have pledged to up the payroll when required, and signing him to a long-term contract will also send a message to the rest of the AL East that Toronto is serious when it comes to competing for the postseason.
Aside from the money, Papelbon is a Type A free agent. With the Blue Jays finishing at .500, it means their first-round draft pick is unprotected.
Signing Papelbon would mean giving up that pick to Boston, and Anthopoulos has shown he is reluctant to give up draft picks—especially to a team in the same division. What may sway Anthopoulos is that Toronto has two first-round picks this year after failing to sign Tyler Beede, so losing one may not be as big an issue.
Papelbon does come with the problem that he is unpopular with the Toronto fans. This goes back to an incident at the end of the 2009 season, when Papelbon deliberately threw inside to Adam Lind—hitting him just so Lind could not hit a fourth home run in the game.
I can’t see this being too much of an issue, though, if Papelbon closes out games successfully and Toronto reaches the postseason.
It would be naïve to think that signing Papelbon will automatically make Toronto a playoff contender. However, Alex Anthopoulos has proved that he has a plan in locking down talented young players for the long term. Jonathan Papelbon falls into this category, and he comes with the added bonus that he has considerable postseason and World Series experience.
Papelbon is just the kind of player that Toronto needs, and Alex Anthopoulos should make a serious attempt to sign him.