11-3-2011: Replacing Papelbon

And now for part two of our free agent series. This time, we take a look at Jonathan Papelbon going forward. Paps had a really strong 2011 campaign, and he showed a new commitment to strength and conditioning which I believe reflected in his numbers: a 2.94 ERA and 12.2 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9. His FIP was a miserly 1.53, easily the best of his career. His velocity did not slip at all from previous years, and if anything his fastball popped just a bit more, and he was able to locate his splitter down out of the zone, making it a hugely effective out pitch.

At the tender age of 30, he already has piled up 219 saves, and is quickly climbing the leaderboard in that category. Here’s what our projections see for him going forward, from ages 31-34:

2012 67.3 0.69 2.95 10.38 1.16 2.95
2013 65.5 0.71 2.99 10.27 1.17 3.02
2014 63.0 0.73 3.05 10.13 1.19 3.11
2015 60.0 0.76 3.13 9.96 1.22 3.21

Papelbon actually looks like a pretty safe signing for the next 3-4 years. The question is, will that be enough? Most players will not outright tell you that they are out to break the bank – Papelbon has done exactly that, comparing himself to Mariano Rivera and insisting at every contract negotiation that he be paid more than any closer in history.

Mo Rivera’s first free agent deal was signed before 2001, and he received a 4-year, $40M deal which included an $8M signing bonus. The other big closer deals of note were Joe Nathan’s 4-year, $48M deal with the Twins and Francisco Cordero’s 4-year, $46M pact with the Reds. So I think what Papelbon is expecting is a contract in the 4-year, $50M range. Closer is an important position on the team, and losing Papelbon would deal a big blow to a strong relief corps, but is it worth it to pay that much for Papelbon, who will be 31 next year?

In-house options

There are a couple of decent relievers already under team control, namely Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks (if he can get healthy enough to play again). What do they look like for 2012?

Bard 66.3 0.73 3.60 9.59 1.14 3.27
Jenks 44.0 0.79 3.48 9.06 1.41 3.85

Our projections show that if anyone in-house should be handed the job, it is Bard. Still, there is quite a gap between what Bard is likely capable of and what we would see from Papelbon, and you are left with the problem of replacing a top setup man. This leads me to think that we will need a free agent signing or a trade to bolster this pen.

Free Agents

There are a lot of potential closers and relievers with closing experience out there, and here’s what we project for them going into next year.

Bell 64.4 0.70 3.63 9.50 1.38 3.46
Rodriguez 65.6 0.82 4.12 9.88 1.35 3.55
Madson 62.8 0.86 2.87 9.03 1.32 3.55
Broxton 53.7 0.84 4.19 11.06 1.39 3.71
Nathan 44.0 1.05 3.40 9.92 1.17 3.59
Francisco 50.3 0.93 3.40 9.80 1.31 3.72
Capps 63.6 1.27 2.55 6.65 1.43 4.48
Wuertz 54.2 1.00 4.34 10.09 1.39 4.05
Lidge 47.5 1.14 4.93 10.23 1.54 4.52

It looks like Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez and Ryan Madson are the best bets, but you have to worry about K-Rod’s age and health. Jonathan Broxton and Nathan could be good, but there are health issues to consider for them, and I’d put Broxton ahead simply based on age (Nathan will be 37 next year!). I’d put the last four relievers in the same tier, with Brad Lidge carrying the most risk and upside. Frank Francisco and Michael Wuertz could be interesting complementary pieces, but doesn’t really seem like closer material at this point. Matt Capps and Brad Lidge should stay in the NL at all costs.

It all comes down to what the price tag is for these guys. I’d like to see the Red Sox land one or both of Bell and Madson, and possibly one more from this list on a short-term deal. There are other lefties out there who could be appealing, such as Mike Gonzalez and Octavio Dotel.

So what is your response? Based on projection alone, it looks like Bell could step in and actually be almost as good as Papelbon, while netting us an extra draft pick. To me, it’s a no-brainer to let Paps walk and sign a cheaper guy who stands to be pretty good in his own right.

UPDATE: After tweaking my NL-to-AL adjustments, there is a huge difference in the projections for the NL relievers. Now there is a huge gap between Papelbon and pretty much everyone else. Based on that difference, I think the Sox better try and re-up Paps.


2 Responses to 11-3-2011: Replacing Papelbon

  1. toosoxy says:

    Jenks terrifies me.
    Maybe Papelbon will A-Rod himself. You know. Where he thinks he’s worth so much that no other team will sign him and we’ll get to keep him…
    I’ve looked at Bell. I’ve heard talk of Capps.
    I’d just rather have Paps…

    • redsoxtalk says:

      Jenks has that pulmonary condition, so unless he drops like 75 pounds, it’ll be doubtful that we ever see him pitch any meaningful innings for us.

      I kind of agree with you. With the way that teams are promoting guys like Fernando Salas out of nowhere to close, it’ll be hard for Pap to find the money he thinks he deserves. Still, he could very well end up with St. Louis or the Mets if they pony up the cash.

      I know there is a big comfort level with Paps, but you can’t always pay $50M for security like that.

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