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Looking from a distance, trading Jonathan Papelbon may seem silly. The team’s biggest weakness in 2010 was their bullpen, and other than Daniel Bard, Papelbon was the only semi-reliable relief pitcher. He has amassed 188 saves in five full seasons as a closer, with a career 2.22 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP. He’s had three seasons with a WHIP under 1.00, meaning he was allowing, on average less than one baserunner each inning.
But, the Red Sox are in the business of “What have you done for me lately?” when dealing with players, and they should be. Too often, teams hang on to a player for his name and for what he had done in the past. The Red Sox are not one of those teams, and they won’t make an exception for Papelbon, who was coming off the worst statistical year of his career in 2010.
As a result, the Red Sox reportedly discussed trading their All-Star closer to the A’s or White Sox and then signing free agent Rafael Soriano to a one-year deal to become the team’s new closer. The Yankees, who probably heard the chatter, swooped in and inked Soriano to a three-year deal to be the team’s setup man. The A’s then opted for Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, while the White Sox instead grabbed Jesse Crain.
Dangling Papelbon around is nothing new for the Red Sox, who reportedly went after Mariano Rivera before he re-signed with the Yankees. The Sox eventually avoided arbitration with Paps, signing him to a one-year, $12 million deal.
Well, as already mentioned, he’s coming off the worst year of his career. He set career worst marks in ERA (3.90), blown saves (8), losses (7), home runs allowed (7), walks (28), and he had the highest WHIP (1.27) since he became a closer in 2006.
Perhaps it’s unfair to judge Papelbon based on one year, but when compared to his first three years as a closer, his downfall is alarming. He was a king of control in 2006, 2007, and 2008. He had a sub-0.80 WHIP in ’06 and ’07 (0.78, 0.77), and walked just eight hitters all year in 2008 (0.95 WHIP).
In 2009, he started what seemed to be a gradual decline. He tripled his walk totals (24) and his WHIP soared above 1.00 (1.15), but he kept the baserunners he put on from scoring in finishing with a 1.85 ERA.
While it may seem that money is no object to the Red Sox and Yankees…simply put: it is. All teams have budgets. With the final year of arbitration looming for Papelbon, he was due north of $10 million for 2011. The Red Sox eventually settled on $12 million.
There’s no doubt that teams were scared off by the high figure, the fact Papelbon would only be around for one year, and what would appear to be his gradual decline.
Now that the Red Sox have signed Papelbon, it would appear that the closer has one year left in Boston. He’s the ultimate competitor, and he probably took all the trade chatter as disrespect. One would think that considering he is in his contract year, he will take that disrespect and turn it into results.
It should be one more strong season for Papelbon that could should end in a trip to October.