Shipping Papelbon back up to Boston won't help Sox
The Red Sox haven’t had a solid closer since Jonathan Papelbon. Some of the always superstitious Sox fan base even believes that position has been cursed since he left. But that doesn’t mean that taking him back will help the team.
And before you get all up in arms, hear us out.
Let’s go over what would be good about having Pap back first, shall we? First off, he’s better than what we have now. Koji Uehara is doing a pretty good job considering he was never meant to be the closer. But imagine having Papelbon back at closer with Uehara in the eighth inning spot. Sounds great, right?
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Of course it does. But then let’s look at Papelbon a little more. As the Boston Herald’s John Tomase said, “He’s still owed $26 million over the next two years, with an attainable 2016 vesting option (55 games finished in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15) worth another $13 million.” As much as the Sox have available to spend, a guaranteed $26 million is quite a lot to fix a problem that isn’t dire. Plus, there’s the issue of who we’d give up to get him back. Remember in 2007 when we traded David Murphy, who has been doing quite well for the Rangers since then, for Eric Gagne? Yeah, I don’t like to talk about it either.
Then there’s the numbers game. Papelbon’s numbers are outstanding, with an ERA of 2.27, a WHIP of 0.90, and 19 saves in 23 save opportunities. But as Tomase also pointed out, those four blown saves have all come since June 17, and they’ve all occurred in one-run games. With four blown saves in a month, it’s very possible that he’s on a decline. His strikeout count is also considerably lower than it has been in his career.
You can definitely argue that the Sox should have tried harder to keep Papelbon in 2011. But it’s much harder to argue that they should get him back now. Not every closer has as many years in them as Mariano Rivera. Papelbon is approaching the tail end of his career, and he’s no longer worth what it would take to get him.
“The Red Sox hope to follow the model of the Cardinals, who have made an art of cycling through internal closing candidates until finding one that sticks, be it Jason Motte in 2011, when they won the World Series, or Edward Mujica this season,” Tomase said. And Tomase is absolutely right.
As much as Sox fans are obsessed with perfection, you have to remember that the team is still in a great position right now. And just look at how the bullpen was able to hold on last night after a terrible start. The team ERA of 3.96 is approaching the back of the pack, but there’s nothing drastic that needs to be done about that. Buchholz is coming back soon, and the Sox can try out some minor league prospects to fill the other holes. And having some of the best offensive stats in the league doesn’t hurt either.
Yes, for many of us there’s still a little hole in our hearts where Jonathan Papelbon once was, but having him back won’t make that feel any better right now. It’s like your mother always said. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.