Think the Boston Red Sox regret not re-signing Jonathan Papelbon yet?
The failure to pay the dependable closer after the 2011 season looks worse every day. During his seven-year tenure in Boston, the Red sox had the luxury of knowing that they had a dependable person in a role where dependability is at a premium. He averaged 36 saves per season, with an ERA of just 2.34 and a conversion rate of nearly 90 percent.
More than anything, Papelbon had the intangible characteristic of a closer: he was crazy. In the clubhouse, he brought out his inner Mississippi self by clowning around, putting empty 30-packs on his head, and dancing the river dance.
But when Papelbon took the mound, he was all business. His eyes looked directly into the souls of those he was about to strike out. Only a select few have the minerals to compete in these high pressure situations.
Papelbon left a bitter taste with Red Sox fans after he blew a save against the Baltimore Orioles in the final game of the 2011 season, which cost Boston a playoff spot. Papelbon and manager Terry Francona became the fall guys for the team’s epic collapse. Despite his impressive body of work, GM Theo Epstein made no real attempt to match the Philadelphia Phillies offer of four years and $50 million.
So how did that work out? Well, Papelbon has done what he’s always done: close games and stay healthy. In just over a season, Pepelbon has appeared in 83 games, saved 43 of them, and maintained a tidy ERA of 2.28.
And what exactly was the Red Sox back up plan? Well they had the ideal closer-to-be in Josh Bard, but they decided to make him a starter instead. This might go down as one of the worst managerial decisions of the Bobby Valentine era, as it ruined Bard psychologically. He went from being one of the top relievers in baseball to a Rick Ankiel clone who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
And the closing duties? That would be split between Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon. Bailey is good when he pitches, but unfortunately he will get hurt every season as surely has Phillies fans will boo Santa Claus. Melancon was an unproven asset from the Houston Astros who turned out to be a complete disaster.
This season, we are once again seeing the true value of Papelbon. Joel Hanrahan was traded for in the offseason, and had thrived as the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But Boston isn’t Pittsburgh, and Hanrahan wasn’t ready for that type of environment. He’s been an epic failure and may be lost for the season. As usual, Bailey has teased Red Sox fans by dominating in April, and then assuming his normal role on the DL in May.
So how will the closer situation work out in Boston? Feel free to leave a comment to keep the conversation going.
Aidan Kearney also writes for his own blog aidanfromworcester.com. Follow him on Twitter @aidanfromworc. Follow him on Facebook @ Aidan FromWorcester