January 20, 2010
Hammering out the contract maintains Theo Epstein's arbitration virginity and keep with Papelbon's wishes that he go year-to-year with his deals, a strategy that pays out more money in the present but doesn't guarantee future cash.
The completion of the deal also frees us to ask many questions of Papelbon's season with the Red Sox — Red Sox Monster addresses a few of them here — and it has me wondering about a somewhat scandalous storyline.
Is this Papelbon's final year in a Red Sox uniform?
The relationship between Papelbon and the Red Sox has admittedly become a pet obsession of mine. In fact, it was just a few months ago that I was wondering if Boston might trade him this offseason. That no longer seems possible after Billy Wagner's(notes) departure and the relative affordability of this deal with Papelbon, so please try to follow my latest theory.
Papelbon has one more year of arbitration eligibility before becoming a free agent after the end of the 2011 season. Though he appears perfectly content with this year-by-year arrangement, that could change the next time around if the Red Sox don't offer him a long-term contract as they have the team's other young stars in Dustin Pedroia(notes), Kevin Youkilis(notes) and Jon Lester(notes).
So let's say that Paps is peeved and vows to take the team to arbitration instead of signing a sweetheart deal. Let's also say that he continues putting up some of the best reliever numbers in the league and is dealing from a position of strength when it comes to his salary request.
Do Epstein and the Red Sox finally take a dip into the arbitration pool they've so adamantly avoided and risk paying Papelbon $13-$15 million for his final year?
It's an interesting situation to ponder, partly because it's also quite possible that both sides might realize that the grass isn't actually greener on the other side.
The days of the giant closer's contract look to have ended with Francisco Cordero's(notes) deal, so Papelbon might be disappointed with those prospects on the horizon. The Red Sox, meanwhile, could also decide that the bullpen provided by a 1-2 Bard-Papelbon is worth paying for and both sides could work on a reasonable extension (all while humming Let's Stay Together).
But that possibility isn't as sexy or fun to talk about, so I'll leave you with this: Mariano Rivera's(notes) current contract is up after 2010 and though the Yankees says he wants to pitch for another five years, wouldn't it be something if Papelbon was freed from Boston and became a replacement for a retired Rivera in the Bronx?
(OK, so that one is a bit out there. But hey, it's Jan. 20 and there's nothing really going on in the baseball world. I reserve the right to get a bit loopy.)