With the dog days of August in full swing, and the Red Sox all but guaranteed to make the postseason, one of the big topics of discussion is what the team will do with a couple of its season's surprises who have expiring contracts after the season. Of course, I refer to Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz, both of whom were question marks coming into the season, but have performed above and beyond most fans' preseason expectations. Today will be part one of two in this short blog series, focusing on the Red Sox closer.
Jonathan Papelbon will be looking for big money and a long term deal, with this being his first chance on the open market now that his arbitration eligibility has expired. In 2006-2008, there was talk around Boston that we had the next Mariano Rivera on our hands; a guy who could legitimately shorten the game to eight innings, including in the postseason. In the following two seasons, something was missing in his game. He was still one of the premier closers in baseball, but he had lost that "unhittable" feeling he possessed early in his career. With his contract expiring after this season, Papelbon was maybe the biggest question mark entering the 2011 season.
This season Papelbon has shown he is ready, and expecting, a big time contract after the season. He is posting his highest K/9 since 2007, and his lowest BB/9 rate since 2008. In 2010, one of his biggest struggles was giving up the longball. However, this season he has improved his HR/FB% from 9.1% to 5.6%. Finally, although his ERA is sitting at 3.08, he has pitched much better than that number, which can be seen with his 1.84 FIP and 2.36 xFIP.
Papelbon and Daniel Bard have formed a lethal combination at the back end of the bullpen, and I would't be so quick to break that up. I hear people say that Bard can take Papelbon's place, and everything will be good. However, with the atrocity that is the 2011 Bobby Jenks, who takes Bard's spot? If Papelbon will settle on a two year deal, with some sort of mutual option for a third year, I jump all over that. He is still a premier closer, and that is a valuable thing to have. However, if Pap insists on a longer term deal, it would be time to show him the door. There are other closers on the market (Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, and Matt Capps, for example) who can come in for a short term deal until you find a new 8th inning guy, if you are insisting on Bard eventually taking over the 9th. However, my best case scenario is keeping the current 1-2 punch in the back of this bullpen around for the next two, maybe three, years.