219 career saves. Gone.
A 2.33 career ERA. Moving further South.
509 career strikeouts. Pitching in another league.
It's not often that a team losing these types of numbers can call themselves winners, but this is exactly the situation that faces the Red Sox in the wake of Jonathan Papelbon's record contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
There's a few reasons why this signing was a victory for the Red Sox, none of which suggest that Papelbon is anything other than a top flight closer. He'll likely go on to be a strong end-of-game presence for the Phillies, where he'll continue to close games and to be one of the most well-known closers in Major League Baseball.
However, for the Red Sox, this is the rare case of addition by the subtraction of an All-Star.
For one, the contract Papelbon signed was ludicrous. The most money ever given to a reliever.
Papelbon signed a deal that, with escalators and incentives, could likely net him $60 million over the next four years. That's $15 million a year.
In the last four years, Papelbon has thrown 268.2 innings and saved 147 games. If he does the same for the Phillies, he'll get paid $223,713 per inning and $408,163 per save.
For the same amount of money, the Red Sox can sign two relievers and help shore up a bullpen that really failed them down the stretch. This year's free agent market is ripe with closers who could all likely be had for $10 million a year or less (such as Ryan Madson, Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Francisco Cordero or Joe Nathan).
If the Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants taught the baseball world anything over the past couple of years, it's that a solid bullpen can be built for very little money. Both bullpens were made-up of cast-offs who flourished in new environments: Joaquin Benoit, Ramon Ramirez, Juan Cruz, Santiago Casilla, etc.
Good relievers seem to pop up every year, depending on the role they are asked to play and the ballpark they are able to pitch in. The Red Sox could sign one of the above names and still have enough money to look at a seventh-inning option like Matt Capps, Frank Francisco, Mike Gonzalez, Juan Cruz, Jon Rauch or Joel Zumaya.
Was Papelbon's Signing Good For the Red Sox
Another victory for the Red Sox comes in the likely return of a first-round pick.
Although there are still questions regarding the new CBA, in the current system, Papelbon will undoubtedly qualify as a Type A free agent and will net the Red Sox an additional first-round pick. Remember that those additional first-round picks are what enabled them to acquire guys like Daniel Bard and Jacoby Ellsbury in years past.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this is a Red Sox team that was in desperate need of a face lift. After an epic collapse and then a long, drawn-out succession of power that saw the manager and GM leave town and the owners' names dragged through the mud in the media, something needed to change.
The Red Sox needed to try and go back to what got them their World Series rings only a few years ago: signing because of potential and numbers and not name recognition, and spending money only when it had to be spent.
This was not the same organization that traded its star shortstop during a stretch run and landed a defensive-minded replacement and a defensive 1B who hit like he was holding a pool noodle instead of a bat. This was not the same organization that took a chance on a large, unproductive DH castoff by the Twins.
In order for the Red Sox to be successful, they need to change the way they do business, and they can start by placing value over dollar signs and building a team instead of focusing on individual parts.
Losing Papelbon allows them to begin that process.