COMMENTARY | In terms of painful memories, the final pitch of the 2011 regular season has to be up there for the Boston Red Sox, a franchise known for torturing their fans in a variety of ways.
On a rain-soaked Baltimore night, the Red Sox clung to a one-run lead, sending four-time All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon to the mound. When entering the 9th with any sort of lead, they had been a perfect 77-0 on the year.
After Papelbon began strikeout-strikeout, it looked as though they would escape a horrid September, one where they almost blew a nine-game wildcard lead.
Then, a double. And another. When Robert Andino's single to left field dropped under Carl Crawford's diving attempt -- a makeable, but tough catch in the slippery conditions -- Papelbon had assured himself of his third blown save of the year and a very big first loss.
Four minutes later, the Tampa Bay Rays ended the Red Sox season. Six weeks later, Papelbon was a Phillie.
Papelbon's departure wasn't the only casualty of that meltdown. During that offseason, both manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein moved on and the following season the team further distanced themselves from several players involved. Only a handful of key players remain from one of the more forgettable seasons in franchise history.
After hitting rock bottom in 2012, the team has surged back to the top of the AL. They employ a younger, more likeable team. There are fewer personalities on the 2013 edition of the Red Sox -- and that's not a bad thing. While Papelbon was amicable enough during his time in Boston, he represents a regression back towards that, even referring to himself as "Cinco Ocho" when he signed in Philadelphia.
As good as Papelbon can be, the team should be left alone to mature for its rejuvenated fanbase.
Beyond the immeasurables, there's also the price tag -- both in assets and actual dollars. He's still owed up to $33.6 million over 2 or 3 years, depending on if he hits his vesting option of finishing 15 games in 2015. Barring an injury, that seems like it won't be a problem. The 32-year-old is having an excellent year to be sure, but it remains to be seen how he'll live up to the contract in a year or two. While money is not an issue for a team like the Red Sox, it could be better spent elsewhere.
Then there's the price to acquire him in the first place. Papelbon could certainly provide stability to the team's biggest weakness, but at what cost? Though the Phillies look to be dead in the water, they are not going to give him away. General manager Ruben Amaro has already stated that he's not moving Papelbon or Cliff Lee, but that could just be a bit of gamesmanship to drive the price up. And the Red Sox are not in position to be dealing prospects, even B-levels, for 32-year olds after doing the opposite just last year.
And with the way he left Boston, refusing to let the Red Sox match the Philadelphia offer, would Papelbon even want to return? He may not have a choice, but an unhappy Papelbon would not be good for anyone involved.
Instead of keeping their own player in the first place, they let him walk. Bringing him back for more money and trading away prospects for him is just poor asset management.
There was a time where seeing anyone but Papelbon pitching in the 9th usually meant the Red Sox were losing. And in 2012, Papelbon's first in Philadelphia, that felt like the case for six straight months. Now, with the Red Sox back to their winning ways, it's those Phillies and Papelbon that are in trouble. If Boston is looking for pitching help, and they should be, there are other, cheaper options out there.
Andrew Luistro has followed the Red Sox for over 20 years. He also writes for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal.
Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7.
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