19 January 2010
Jonathan Papelbon could send Theo Epstein to his first arbitration meeting as the Red Sox GM if the cannot agree on a contract for the 2010 season today. Papelbon has stated that he would rather go year-to-year with the Red Sox rather than sign a multi-year deal before testing the Free Agent market, and having made $6.25 million in 2009, he will likely be looking for $8-10 million this year.
That means the Red Sox will have some decisions to make in the 2011 offseason.
Daniel Bard will have all of 2010 to prove whether or not he has the stuff to replace Papelbon as the closer. If he does, the Sox could trade Papelbon at the All-Star break or in the 2011 offseason. The Sox would probably be foolish to trade one of the best closers in the league while he is still under their control, and while they are still capable of making a World Series run, but if Paps makes $10M+ this year, he'll be expecting Mariano Rivera money ($15M) in 2011, and that will make him tough to trade.
The other concern with Papelbon is his health. Pitching Coach John Farrel recently stated that the Sox attempted to adjust Papelbon's mechanics last season in an effort to protect his shoulder. Paps didn't respond well to the adjustment and tweaked his mechanics again midway through last season. The results were positive and Farrell says Paps will continue using this new approach going forward. But that raises some questions:
How long will Papelbon's shoulder/arm last if he doesn't adjust?
Will he be giving 100% every time he takes the mound, knowing that he needs to stay healthy if he wants that Rivera-type contract?
If Bard can prove that he is capable if being a big league closer, the Red Sox will have the flexibility to discuss trade offers for Papelbon. The Sox could include Papelbon in a deal for Adrian Gonzalez, but the Padres have Heath Bell under control through 2011 and he is only making $4M in 2010. Almost every team in the league would be interested in trading for Papelbon, but only a few are capable of paying him what he will want as a free agent... and one of them in the Yankees.
That's why trading him before the end of 2011 makes sense for the Sox.
The Red Sox are one of the those teams with the money to pay Papelbon, but they will also have a number of holes to fill after the 2010 season. With Ortiz, Lowell and Varitek all becoming free agents, the Sox could use Papelbon to trade for a big bat. They also need to decide how much they are willing to offer Josh Beckett to stay in Boston... especially, now that Felix Hernandez appears to be signing a five-year deal with the Mariners.
Bottom Line: Bard is the key here. If he proves his worth this season, I say re-sign Beckett and use Paps to get a bat.
What do you guys think?