The solution is closer than you think
We saw this before with Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez. Eccentric and dominant Red Sox players reaching free agency and walking. Friday it happened for the third time in the post-curse era when Jonathan Papelbon reached a four year deal today with the Phillies worth $50 million.
It’s funny how quickly the weather in Boston changes. This can obviously be taken literally or figuratively. In October of 2010 Red Sox fans were anxious to turn the keys of the bus over to Daniel Bard. Papelbon had made it clear that he wanted to get to free agency and he was coming off the worst season of his career with an ERA just a hair south of four and eight blown saves.
In 2011 people quickly changed their tune when September rolled around and Papelbon was the only player on the team that wasn’t an Orioles rally waiting to happen. Suddenly, the closer we couldn’t wait to get rid of was the top player of the off season to-do list.
Well, Pap is gone now. No more Riverdance, no more scowling at batters and no more bad Dunkin Donuts commericals…scratch that last one, they’ll find somebody to do a horrible Dunks spot. Either way, I’m here to tell you that it’s OKAY!!!
Seeing Papelbon walk away isn’t as hard for me for a number of reasons. First of all, as time goes on I become less and less jaded because this is the very nature of the beast. Like it or not, baseball is a business. Sorry…it’s not about you and me. It’s about the people who put their bodies on the line getting everything that they can.
Additionally, I think Papelbon’s best years are behind him. A Trevor Hoffman, a Marino Rivera and a Dennis Eckersleycome around once in a blue moon. Closers by nature throw gas and mystify hitters for a few seasons before quickly declining as their primes fly past them at a young age.
Lastly, I may be in the minority, but I just don’t think Papelbon is that likable. I get it…people love the Riverdance, the thick southern accent and the way he glares at hitters before trying to blow them away with smoke. But this is a guy who for two years has been counting the minutes until he gets to walk away from the Red Sox and sell his services to the highest bidder. I know that athletes are about money first and foremost and I’m ok with that…I just don’t want them to be so candid about it!
The Red Sox do have another hole to fill, but they may not have to go very far to find the guy that can do it. When did Red Sox Nation suddenly lose their faith in Daniel Bard? He has great stuff and doesn’t take three and a half minutes in between pitches. Last season he went from May 23rd to August 1st without allowing a run.
Bard struggled out of the gates and again to finish out the season, and with all of the high profile free agents that have struggled under the bright lights of Boston, guys who have proven to have the ability to get the job done here are at a premium, but $50 million for a position that is known for such a rapid rise and fall just doesn’t make sense.
There are other highly coveted free agents out there such as Ryan Madson, Heath Bell and Matt Capps. They might not command as much money as Papelbon, but they won’t come cheap and based on other free agent closer signings I’m being optimistic when I say there is a 50/50 chance they come in and succeed. Consider me on the “Bard Bandwagon”. There is no use overpaying for the next Brian Fuentes or Francisco Rodriguez when there’s a chance the next Jonathan Papelbon may already be banging spoons against the wall beneath the right field bleachers.
Over the last few years teams like the Rangers and Rays have assembled great bullpens on a budget with home grown talent. It’s a difficult thing to master, but that’s what you trust a general manager to do. It would be one thing to inherit an awful team where you can start from scratch, an entirely different thing to inherit a team of highly paid and underachieving superstars.
Ben Cherington can do very little to change this Red Sox lineup with so many long term commitments, but he received his second big test when the guy who struck out Seth Smith for the final out of the 2007 World Series bolted town. Obviously the first big test is to do something about the albatross in their rotation named John Lackey, but Cherington has an entire pitching staff to worry about, and a bullpen is going to be a big part of that.
Life goes on without Jonathan Papelbon losing for the Red Sox. At least now it goes on with games that will be about an average of 15 minutes shorter.