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Does Theo Epstein want to keep Papelbon around?

Sep 23, 2010, 11:28 AM EST

I’ve been beating the “The Red Sox will non-tender Jonathan Papelbon” drum for a while now. But when you read that kind of stuff, keep one thing in mind: I don’t, surprisingly enough, run the Boston Red Sox.  Theo Epstein does, however, and based on some things he said yesterday, Papelbon may very well be back in Boston next year:

“Having two really good
pitchers is better than one. Sometimes you don’t want to
overcomplicate things.”

Or it could simply be a platitude designed to get him and the team through the last week and a half of the season without having a big controversy erupt.

It’s also worth noting, I think, that having to pay a closer eight figures a year — which is what Papelbon will get if offered arbitration by the Sox — complicates things too. Like, really complicates things if you’re trying to add other pieces to a team that could use some new pieces.

Theo knows that too.

  1. Trevor B - Sep 23, 2010 at 11:55 AM

    You notice though that Theo doesn’t say anything about Papelbon being one of those 2 good pitchers.

  2. Kevin S. - Sep 23, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    I still think Boston moves him before the arb deadline. Someone will go in at a chance for a Proven! Closer!

  3. JBerardi - Sep 23, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    1. Theo is dead on about the “Having two really good pitchers is better than one.” bit. People talk about how much better the Red Sox would be with Bard closing; they usually fail to mention that Bard is among the most valuable relievers in baseball (fourth in WPA). So while you gain a little in the ninth inning by replacing Papelbon, you’ve got a pitcher replacing Bard’s innings who’s likely even worse than Papelbon. Just straight up releasing Papelbon and replacing him with Bard weakens the Red Sox bullpen.

    2. Theo doesn’t just discard players. He got Chris Balcom-Miller (a top 20 prospect in the Sox system) for Manny Delcarmen. He got a quasi-interesting relief prospect from the Giants for Ramon Ramirez. Hell, he got Chris Carter (the older Chris Carter) for Willy Mo freakin’ Pena, then proceeded to flip Carter for Billy Wagner, who he then turned into the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft (thanks, Braves!). He even got something for Mark Kotsay. He didn’t get anything for Mike Lowell, so he stayed in the roster the whole year (at $12M). Point is, Theo just doesn’t give guys up for nothing. If he insisted on getting actual prospects in return for two of his set up men, guys who I remind you actually pitched themselves out of jobs in-season, what are the odds he’ll just release his most second most valuable reliever in the offseaons?

    3. The Red Sox front office are generally the calmest, most level-headed guys in the room. They’re very well insulated from the constant hysterics surrounding the Red Sox roster. They’re kind of like that weird old guy on the island who runs the universe in Hitchhiker’s Guide; they don’t tend to jump to conclusions and they seem to understand that no matter what they do, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the results. Based on that I don’t think they’ll even make trading Papelbon an imperative in the offseason. Not that he won’t be avaliable for the right offer, but I don’t think they’re freaking out about the prospect of starting next season with him as closer. I’m sure they’re not blind to his decline as a pitcher, but they also realize that relief pitcher performance is fickle, and that a guy doesn’t have to be an amazing pitcher to be a solid closer and lengthen their bullpen. If he just flat out sucks next year they can always deal with it then. The only thing they really have to lose by keeping him around is money, and, well, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo and a whole bunch of other guys who’ve been highly compensated to not play for the Red Sox all say hi. Dealing with a one-year, ~$10M contract for a non-contributor just doesn’t scare these guys; they have a financial advantage and they’re happy to leverage it.

    In conclusion, I’d break the odds down like this: non-tendered: 10% chance. Traded before the start of next season: 25% chance. Breaks camp as the Red Sox closer: 65% chance.

  4. Kevin S. - Sep 23, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    The only difference with those guys is the Red Sox were stuck with paying them. If going into the season Boston could have non-tendered Lowell instead of paying him $12 million, they would have.

  5. Professor Longnose - Sep 23, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    But they also have a history of getting rid of guys a little before, rather than a little after, they lose it. And they don’t like overpaying guys. It wouldn’t be out of character for them to move on.
    It might come down to negotiations. If they can work out a contract without having to offer him arbitration, they might bring him back that way.

  6. Don - Sep 23, 2010 at 9:14 PM

    As a die hard Yankees fan I can only hope he signs him to a 10 year deal at about 15 per.

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