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On Jonathan Papelbon and The Life of a Closer

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Jonathan Papelbon was one of the main reasons we won our seventh World Series in 2007. He’s one of the driving forces behind the Red Sox resurgence. He’s been one of the greatest closers in the game for the past four seasons. And he’s just about done.
There isn’t necessarily one singular reason why Jonathan Papelbon should be sent packing. It’s the little things.
Perhaps it’s the alarming number of loaded bases he’s allowed in the ninth inning this season. Perhaps it’s the lack of confidence when he steps to the mound that Sox fans used to feel in ‘06/’07. Perhaps it’s the fact that, in a recent interview with Sirius/XM, he claimed he could see himself playing in pinstripes. Whatever it is, Papelbon is on the outs.
Don’t get me wrong. Pap’s been one of my favorite players since he came up in the middle of 2005. The glare. The ‘hawk. The goofy dancing. He’s a beloved fixture of the New England sports scene. But sometimes beloved fixtures need replacing.

The argument many Sox fans will use is that he’s still one of the premier closers. Eighteen saves. ERA under two. But the cracks are showing. He’s letting a lot of runners on base, but luckily getting that third out before many of them get around. Why not get the most we can for him while he’s on the good end of getting sloppy and not the bad end?

He’s not the lights-out fireballing closer he once was. Whether he’s playing hurt and not telling us, like Pedroia loves to do, or it’s something else; it doesn’t make sense for us to give him an entirely new contract when we have so many credible replacements.
• Hideki Okajima – Okey has been a dependable lefty ever since he quietly came over to the States in 2006 while his countryman Daisuke got all the press. He has his off nights; but they’re few and far between. Joe Torre once called him “unhittable.” That’s enough for me. I would feel a little more comfortable if he actually looked at his pitches after he threw them, though.
• Justin Masterson – The Bald Jamaican is a bit of a slot-filler. If the Sox need a start, he starts. If the Sox need some middle relief, he middle-relieves. If the Sox need him to close a game, he ends it. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Eckersley-like side-armer late in games, but I do think he’s the most effective in the seventh and eighth innings.
• Manny Delcarmen – This one might be a bit of a stretch, but The Other Manny has done the ninth inning thing before. And he has the added advantage of being a fan favorite as he was born & raised in Hyde Park.
• Daniel Bard – Bard is the most intriguing Papelbon-replacement, in my opinion. 100 mph righty with a curve that drops harder than a fat kid on a unicycle. Francona and Farrell have been giving Bard some late-game opportunities this season, and some feel he’s a Papelbon injury away from taking over the closer role and not giving it back.
Although it would be hard to say goodbye to someone who’s given us so much in such a small amount of time, the Sox do have many options. Papelbon might price himself right out of Boston in 2011; perhaps we should start thinking about a backup plan in 2009.

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About Ethan Booker

  • Jane

    I think too much is read into Papelbon’s *willingness* to pitch for the Yankees. All he means is that he’s not totally ruling out the possibility, should the occasion or opportunity arise — and if that organization offers him the best deal. But it would have to be significantly greater than what the Red Sox offer. One should understand that while baseball is exclusively a game for fans, it’s also a business for the players. And the fact is that their attitude toward the Boston-New York rivalry isn’t quite the same as that of the fans: the perspective is actually very different. If it came to that, even David Ortiz has declared that he hasn’t totally ruled out playing for the Yankees. As for Papelbon’s recent struggles: one might call them *growing pains* — for a pitcher learning new pitches and making adjustments.

  • Tony

    Analysis aside, you know you’re just mad about the Yankees oomment. You’ve got to be used to Red Sox players jumping ship to play for the Yankees. Damon is there now and lest we forget Wade Boggs riding around Yankee stadium on horseback. And obviously there is Clemens. Trust me, Papelbon will never be a Yankee; he doesn’t fit the profile.

  • @Jane: The interviewer did kind of lead him into that question. He didn’t just blurt out he wanted to play for the Yanks, so you’re right there. Not sure about the learning new pitches after four-ish years in the bigs; but he’s definitely gotta start making some adjustments after losing some velocity.

    @Tony: I wouldn’t say I’m mad. Damon & Boggs were past their prime and Clemens was too, although he brought it back magically. And you’re right about Papelbon not fitting the Yankee profile. I’ve never heard anything about him eating babies or worshipping the Devil..

  • ed from tampa

    Clemens got it back “magically”? Magic syringe, maybe.

    Boggs may have been past his prime when he went to the Evils but he still had some gas left. And though he stunk for a really bad Devil Rays team, it was nice to see him get his 3000th hit down here.

    The Red Sox have been pretty good at unloading guys before they became a liability – Pedro, Nomahhhh, ManRam. As good as Papplbon has been for you guys I’m sure he’ll get kicked to the curb before he hurts you guys too much.

  • @Ed: “Clemens got it back “magically”? Magic syringe, maybe.”

    Hence the quotation marks..