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Proven closer or not: Papelbon is as good as gone

Sep 9, 2010, 2:30 PM EDT

FOX’s Jon Paul Morosi has a column up today in which he argues that the Red Sox have to bring Jonathan Papelbon back next year.  His reasoning: he’s a Proven Closer! Sure, Daniel Bard may be good, but he’s never pitched the ninth inning!  If you let Papelbon go and Bard closes, who pitches the eighth?!

It’s nothing we haven’t read before when closer controversies arise. Closing is different and special and mysterious yadda, yadda yadda. I got tired of ripping that stuff a few years ago so I’ll refrain from doing it again. I’ll just note that when the best closer of all time moved from starting to being a setup man to being a closer for a championship team without any previous closing experience, I’d say that the concept of the Proven Closer is pretty much garbage. At least if you don’t think the Yankees should have kept John Wetteland around a few more years. 

The most striking thing about it, though, is that the piece has only one brief mention of the most salient fact regarding Jonathan Papelbon and 2011: his eight figure salary.  And he’ll get it if the Sox want to bring him back, because he’s arbitration-eligible and arbitration does not lower salaries for guys like Papelbon. It raises them. He makes $9.35 million this year. He got a $3 million raise last year. You figure out how expensive he’s going to be in 2011.

Sure, some teams are happy to pay $12 million for a shaky closer who splits time as a setup man, but the Red Sox aren’t that kind of team. Barring Daniel Bard getting run over by a streetcar*, I’d bet my son that Papelbon gets non-tendered or otherwise shipped out this winter.

*Yes, this is my second “run over by a streetcar” reference today. I just woke up with the idea in my head for some reason. 

  1. birdmancometh - Sep 9, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    Can your son do yard work?

  2. BC - Sep 9, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    Yeah, he’s gone. The Red Sox can use the $ from him and Lowell to do some serious spending and plug some holes. And likely sign V-Mart.

  3. ThinMan - Sep 9, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    Craig, if the Sox let Papelbon walk and install Bard as the closer for 2011, who serves as the bridge to Bard? It isn’t like the Sox pen was exactly swimming in reliable relievers this season. Even the Best Team Money Can Buy and their trademarked Best Closer of All Time have had difficulties in years when they haven’t had reliable options in the 7th and 8th. As things stand right now, the Sox have 2 relievers in their pen whom Tito can count on. If they let Papelbon walk and give the closing job to Bard, that number goes down to 1.

  4. Trevor B - Sep 9, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    Quality middle of the game releivers come an go every year like the seasons. There are always those relievers who are elite for a season or two and then are forgotten. Boston isn’t run by a bunch of idiots (and I’m not even a Boston fan) and good releivers are easy to pick up during the mass free-agent rush. Boston will be fine getting rid of Papelbon and Papelbon will be fine trying to find a new job.

  5. JBerardi - Sep 9, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    1. Non-tender your second best reliever
    2. Put your best reliever into his roll, ensuring that he pitches in a bunch of three-run games, as opposed to critical situations in the seventh inning with runners on base and the game on the line.
    3. ?
    4. Win!

  6. Ditto65 - Sep 9, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    The 7th and 8th do not matter if the guy you run out there for the 9th can’t get the job done.

  7. Son of Shane Mack - Sep 9, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    You use the millions you save from not paying Papelbon to get yourself some quality relievers for the 7th and 8th. There will be some available.
    Granted, the closer role is overrated. Granted, Bard might actually be more valuable as a set-up man than a closer, as many high leverage situations come in the 7-8th inning. However, a teams best reliever usually get stuck with closing duties – which does limit their innings and sometimes their impact. It’s possible a bullpen with Papelbon closing and continuing to use Bard as the “fireman” (that’s a role that’s from decades past) and set-up man might be more effective than one that uses Bard as a closer with others setting him up. However, most teams don’t pay $12 million or so to a closer that’s shaky when you’ve got a replacement who is likely better and far cheaper waiting in the wings.
    The whole idea of a closer IS overrated. That’s one reason why you don’t pay $12 million for one that’s less than great.

  8. Ari Collins - Sep 9, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    Generally agree with step 2, but step 3 is SPEND YOUR TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS ON A LEFT FIELDER INSTEAD. Or anywhere else but on a middle reliever who’s still very good but declining.

    If they can trade him and get a prospect? Even better.

  9. The Ol Goaler - Sep 9, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    While pitchers do exist that pitch quite effectively in any inning but the ninth (LaTroy Hawkins, anyone?), I’d like to see some manager go back to the concept of the Ace Reliever… the guy you bring in when the game’s on the bases, and to heck with worrying about what freakin’ inning it is! Two on, one out, one-run lead in the 7th? Gimme the Goose or the Mad Hungarian or Rollie; NOW!
    I know, it won’t happen; Tony LaRussa enjoyed just too much success by bringing in Dennis Eckersley to start the 9th with nobody on, nobody out, and a three-run lead. Now, “conventional wisdom” deems one must have a “closer”… (sigh)

  10. JBerardi - Sep 9, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    And the ninth doesn’t matter if you get blown out in the seventh. What’s your point?

  11. Ditto65 - Sep 9, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    My point is if you save all your pitching for the 7th and 8th, and have nothing for the 9th, it is fruitless. Are you dense?

  12. JBerardi - Sep 9, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    If you save all your pitching for the ninth, and lose before you get there, it’s fruitless. Are you dense?

    …See what I did there?

  13. Son of Shane Mack - Sep 9, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    I agree. Like you said, sadly, it won’t happen.

  14. Ditto65 - Sep 9, 2010 at 9:10 PM

    That was neat how you turned that around.
    The issue is Papelbon – keep or dump. He is not doing the job for the price charged; dump. Find a set-up guy and move Bard to closer.
    Or we could keep arguing between middle relief and closer “’til the cows come home” (not sure what that means, but old people say it so it must be important).

  15. Bull Durham - Sep 10, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    I agree completely. I will say, however, there appears to be something to the whole mentality of a closer argument. If you think about it, most closers are not particularly accustomed to coming in to put out a fire, as it were. The vast majority of the time, they come in to start the 9th with no outs and nobody on. Seems to me it would require a different makeup to be the sort of pitcher who can thrive coming in and knowing that you have no margin of error right from the first pitch.

  16. GP - Sep 10, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    ThinMan, you’re obviously not a Red Sox fan if you’re labeling Papelbon as somebody that can be counted on. He’s been the exact opposite of reliable. Every appearance is a crap shoot with him and that kind of “closing” won’t do in the AL East.
    For everybody else, yes, the bullpen was terrible this year and it’s not all Papelbon’s fault. The offseason will be spent attempting to fix that I’m sure. Having another $9-12M to spend on guys that can get people out in the 7th and 8th won’t hurt that process at all.

  17. Gary - Sep 10, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    I have to disagree about Papelbon being gone. First, there is no way he’ll be non-tendered. For one, the Sox have yet to go to arbitration with any player, including Papelbon. Second, if they didn’t want to bring him back, they would trade him and get something for him.
    More likely, they will keep him for one more year as te full-time closer, not one that splits time with Bard and get two draft picks if he doesn’t resign here.
    A competing team needs a both a good setup man (Bard) and a good closer (which Papelbon still is) as well as others to fill the other roles.
    You don’t strengthen the bullpen by taking away one of your two best relievers.

  18. Maureen Poretta - Sep 10, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    Pabelbon gives me chest pains…He’s not earning his paycheck so I won’t be upset if he leaves. I’ve got enough chest pains already being a Massachusetts girl who has relocated to NC and is surrounded by cocky Yankees fans!

  19. Dano50505 - Sep 10, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    No way will Theo allow Papelbon to walk and get no compensation. The deterioration of Papelbon’s skills has been wildly exaggerated. The very fact that he WILL get so much should he ever get to arbitration (the author would be well advised to check how often THAT has happened under Theo Epstein) shows how valuable he remains. The money he makes and will get certainly is high. But the Red Sox can afford it. People also ought to bear in mind that good relievers can be found. But great ones are in short supply. Papelbon is a great one, even if he is completing his worst year. Every player has a super year and a dog year in him.

  20. basedrum777 - Sep 10, 2010 at 7:25 PM

    What you don’t want him now? I thought he was the best ever? He said so when he wanted to close the game in Yankees stadium for the all-star game and all the Redsox fans backed him up? What happened?
    The Redsox Vagina weeps for Papelbon.

  21. Dano50505 - Sep 13, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    The issue is getting something for one of your best, most valued assets. Try to keep foolish emotions out of decision making. Thank goodness we have a guy that manages to do so. You would foolishly let one of our best pitchers go for nothing apparently. No offense, but you’d make a lousy GM.

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