October 11, 2009
Jonathan Papelbon(notes) sat silently in front of his locker after Sunday's season-ending blown save to the Angels, but the usually chatty closer was causing a lot of discussion around the baseball world.
And not just talk of the "can you believe he finally gave a run in the postseason?" variety, either.
In the wake of Boston's 7-6 loss to Los Angeles in the ALDS, message boards and Twitter feeds everywhere wondered if Papelbon had thrown his last pitch in a Red Sox uniform. Over on Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal suggested that Papelbon would be the one to take the fall for his team's quick playoff exit.
Trading an elite relief pitcher who just saved 38 games with a 1.85 ERA during the regular season would seem to be the type of reaction easily dismissed as a knee-jerk notion made in the heat of of a disappointing loss.
But the truth is that the idea has been quietly discussed by the members of Red Sox Nation for some time now. Papelbon still has two years of arbitration remaining before free agency and he was just awarded $6.25 million in 2009, a record for a pitcher. The thinking in New England circles is that GM Theo Epstein could command a decent trade package for Papelbon in the offseason and Billy Wagner(notes) could fill the 2010 closer's job at a cheaper rate.
It's not an outlandish suggestion, especially for a Red Sox franchise that values maximizing its resources. Before his great performance over the final season's two months, Papelbon's strikeout ratio was decreasing while his walk rate was increasing. Automatic saves are now, at best, an occasional adventure and with Bard waiting in the wings, it makes sense that Epstein might want to listen what closer-starved clubs might be offering this offseason.
So will it happen? From this viewpoint, the most intriguing and logical landing spot would be Brad Lidge(notes)-stricken Philadelphia, which will again be looking to bolster its bullpen while their core remains in championship form. Not only would Papelbon fit perfectly into the Philly sports landscape, the organization has both the prospects and cash to afford him.
But if the Phillies aren't interested, I'd be surprised if Epstein finds a deal worth trading away a sure ninth-inning option for 2010. Even if potential trade partners are willing and able to part with the right combo of major- and minor-league talent, I don't believe they'll want to assume taking on Papelbon's salary and reputation as an outspoken clubhouse presence.
Should the Red Sox entertain the idea of trading Papelbon this offseason? To which team?