The Philadelphia Phillies have signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year deal worth upwards of $50 million, with a vesting option for 2016 that could make the contract worth $60 million over five years. It is an incredible amount of money for a player who will pitch 70 innings a season at most, but the 30-year-old ex-Boston Red Sox closer will nonetheless make a substantial impact over its duration.
Papelbon is coming off an excellent season in which he converted 31 save-opportunities, posted a 2.94 ERA, and struck out a career-high 87 batters in 64 1/3 innings. Due to his impressive performance and his career accomplishments, the Phillies vastly overpaid for Papelbon, who, based on his average innings per season, is set to make $178,000 per inning pitched.
The Boston Red Sox, as usual, didn’t make nearly an aggressive enough attempt to retain their players. In offseasons past, they let Jason Bay walk, then let Victor Martinez go, too. It is incredibly frustrating. So many questions surround the team, including who will manage. Why should he wait for the Red Sox to express interest when a winning team in a calmer environment clearly wants him so badly? This is why it is impossible to blame him for leaving.
The Red Sox may have been wise not to make such an exorbitant investment, but losing Papelbon is a big blow. His departure most likely means they will go after Plan B, who could be Ryan Madson, the Phillies ex-closer. That would be a dangerous and unnecessary move. Overpaying an everyday player is one thing, but to break the bank for a reliever is not wise, especially considering Madson is 31 and only has one year of experience in the closer’s role. It was a great year, with 32 saves and a 2.37 ERA in 2011, but not worth putting so much stock in. By contrast, Papelbon has 219 saves since 2006, his first full year in the majors. Though ill-advised, Philadelphia’s overpaying of Papelbon is a far more intelligent decision than Boston, or any other team, possibly doing the same for Madson’s services.
Papelbon’s departure should leave the Red Sox with one sane option: give Daniel Bard the job. Considering how much the 26-year-old set-up man struggled in September, this may be a painful possibility for some fans. He may not be ready. Before September he was superb in his role, but when he had to fill in for Papelbon the results weren’t good: he blew five saves in six chances.
Being as good a closer as Papelbon was takes an acquired mentality. Assuming the closer’s role and being effective means handling a tremendous amount of pressure. If Boston thinks Bard has a closer’s makeup, then they should give him the title now. It could do a world of good for him to know what role lies ahead. An offseason of preparation can create the mentality Papelbon had, not to mention take his confidence to new heights. It would be a risk worth taking.
Meanwhile, Papelbon joins a talented team that is bound to contend for a championship and will get plenty of save opportunities with the starting rotation Philadelphia has. He will also add some flavor to an already enjoyable cast of characters. He will play for a great player’s manager in Charlie Manuel and won’t have to deal with the drama and uncertainty that currently plagues Boston. Philadelphia may have made a mistake with the contract’s longevity and its financial commitment, but they will get an inspired pitcher who is happy to be in a new environment and is capable of shutting the door on a regular basis.