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Papelbon had a career year and proved to again be the most valuable reliever for the Sox
When last April started, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Red Sox would let Papelbon walk. Coming off career highs (on the wrong end) in losses, with seven, walks, with 28, and ERA with a 3.90 clip, it seemed like hitters had finally begun to catch up to Boston's enthusiastic closer.
With budding star Daniel Bard waiting in the wings, Papelbon was a luxury that the Red Sox couldn't afford and didn't need.
What a difference a year makes.
No only did Papelbon look better, notching 31 saves while lowering his ERA to 2.94, his walks to 10 and his WHIP to 0.93, but Daniel Bard imploded in September, seemingly giving up a run every time he toed the rubber.
There is no way the Red Sox can turn the ball over to Bard in the ninth inning next year and at 30 years old, Papelbon still has another four good years in him. However, he's also going to command a pretty high salary as one of the game's most recognizable closers. If Papelbon were to give the Red Sox some semblance of a hometown discount then his return would be far more likely.
However, with Papelbon figuring to ask for $12-15 million a year, the Red Sox might be be better off acquiring two late-inning relievers for the same salary.
Some cheaper potential closers are set to hit the market this year:
1. Ryan Madson
Available for potentially half of Papelbon's salary, Madson has had a similar, if not better, track record over the last couple of seasons. Closing this year for Philadelphia because of injuries, Madson saved 32 games. He's also posted a sub-3.00 ERA the last two seasons and a sub-4.00 ERA every year since 2007. He has an 8 K/9 ratio for his career and would make a killer trio with Bard and Papelbon.
2. Heath Bell
Also approximately half the cost of Papelbon, Bell has been one of baseball's most effective closers over the past three seasons. He's posted ERAs of 2.71, 1.93 and 2.44 and WHIPs of 1.12, 1.20 and 1.15. With a deadly changeup, instead of a blazing fastball, he could be a solid counterpart to Bard.
3. Francisco Cordero
The least explosive option of the three, Cordero is nothing if not steady. Since emerging with Milwaukee in 2007, Cordero has posted at least 34 saves in every season. This year, he was even more effective than usual, cutting down on his walk numbers and using fewer pitches to get out of innings. He has experience and wouldn't command a huge salary.
4. Brad Lidge
Then there is something of a gamble. Lidge was once one of the game's most dominant closers, and at 34 years old, still has a couple good seasons left in the tank. After a disastrous 2009, he bounced back in 2010 to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and 52 K's in 45 innings. He could be a bust or a huge success, but if the Red Sox can add quality relievers around him, he could be a great buy-low option.
5. Francisco Rodriguez
Another interesting option, K-Rod's value is lower than one might expect after his off-field issues and his demotion from a closer's role. But K-Rod is still only 29 years old and career 2.51 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and carries the same devastating stuff that he's always had. If the Red Sox can put off-field incentives into the contract, he could be a real value.