This week, we begin the mailbag with some very good news for Jonathan Papelbon: the Phillies and Ryan Madson are closing in on a contract worth a reported four years and $44 million. Apparently, the deal came together after the Phillies spoke with Papelbon.
Last week, I suggested the Red Sox might serve themselves well by finding a cheaper alternative at closer. Papelbon has always wanted to set the market as a closer, and he finds himself a free agent for the first time. He won’t come cheap, and will undoubtedly want something close to the $15 million annual salary being pulled down by Mariano Rivera in New York.
That was before the Madson contract. Now, it seems pretty clear. If Madson is worth $11 million per year, Papelbon is worth more. Look at the comparison of the two from this past season.
Papelbon: 63 games
Madson: 62 games
Papelbon: 64 1/3 IP
Madson: 60 2/3 IP
Papelbon: 31 saves
Madson: 32 saves
Papelbon: 87 SO
Madson: 62 SO
Papelbon: 10 BB
Madson: 16 BB
Papelbon: 0.933 WHIP / 2.94 ERA
Madson: 1.154 WHIP / 2.37 ERA
Papelbon, pitching in the superior American League, struck out 25 more batters and had a lower WHIP. And that’s just last season. He has proven himself in the AL East, with 219 career saves — the second-most of any closer in history through the first seven years of a career.
As I've said all along, Papelbon handled himself extremely well during the September collapse. He was a competitor who was always accountable following an appearance — whether the end result was a win or a blown save.
Markets change and teams must adapt to those changes. Last season, the market for outfielders was turned upside down when Jayson Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals in early December. Within days, the Sox signed Carl Crawford to an equally long (and more lucrative) deal. It was more than they planned on spending; a clear reaction to a sudden and drastic change in what outfielders were getting paid.
We may be seeing a similar change in the market for closers right now. With just a few exceptions, that market had sagged in recent years as teams didn't value the role as highly as they once did. Madson's contract could mean a run on elite closers like Papelbon and Heath Bell. It will be interesting to see how the Sox react.
Let's open up the mailbag.
If the Red Sox lose David Ortiz, would they consider getting Prince (Fielder). He seems like he is better fit for DH.
–Coy Hall, McCamey, Tex.
Like Albert Pujols, Fielder is going to land a massive contract. If the Sox aren't willing to overpay David Ortiz as a DH, why would they give Fielder even more money (and for many more years)? If Ortiz doesn't return, it's because the Sox don't want to overspend for a player who is strictly a DH. No point in letting a successful left-handed hitting DH go for a more expensive left-handed hitting DH.
And, if Ortiz heads to another team, I'm a firm believer they should allow Kevin Youkilis (a right-handed batter) to spend more time in that spot and pursue another third baseman like Aramis Ramirez, or start thinking about Will Middlebrooks as the third baseman of the future.
With Will Middlebrooks having a great year in the minors and lately tearing up the Arizona Fall league — could the Sox look to move Youk now? As he seems to be "breaking down" worse and worse every year and he hasn't come out looking real good in all the news about the clubhouse environment.
–Chuck, Woonsocket, R.I.
I've been told the Red Sox believe Middlebrooks is still a year away, and that they'd like to keep him in the minors for a big part of the 2012 season. The concern over Youkilis' injuries is real — even though he says third base does not wear him down any more it seems clear the toll is greater on him than when he played first.
Middlebrooks could very well be the third baseman of the future, but the team doesn't think the future is now.
Why all the speculation/discussion about any left-handed hitters? Clearly we need another right-handed bat with some pop. Besides Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Beltran, are there any other viable right handed hitters that could help?
–Walt Oliver, Bakersfield, Calif.
I mentioned Aramis Ramirez before, a right-handed hitting third baseman (as is Middlebrooks). When looking at potential right fielders, the names after Cuddyer and Beltran aren't that exciting: Cody Ross? Coco Crisp?
Hello Neighbor! I feel u do not agree, but should the Sox pursue a No. 1 pitcher any way they can? And also could they pick up Roy Oswalt and get Papelbon back?
— Bill Burke, Auburn, Maine
You are right — I do not agree. And not just because you are writing from the wrong side of the Androscoggin in beautiful L/A (north.) The Sox should begin next season with a top of the rotation featuring Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. That's up there with the best in the game. They do not need a No. 1 starter. I do like the idea of Roy Oswalt or Mark Buehrle as a veteran back-of-the-rotation addition as well as Alfredo Aceves as their No. 5 man.
Why wouldn't the Sox pursue Bobby Valentine as the next manager? He is over-the-top smart, no nonsense and would whip these over paid babies into shape. Isn't that what this team needs?
–Neil B., Delray Beach, Calif.
It seems pretty clear the Sox are not going in that direction. We haven't heard anything about a Valentine of a Joe Torre or Bobby Cox or Lou Piniella. There are big names out there who would command immediate respect in the Red Sox clubhouse but they certainly seem to be looking at younger up and coming names as the replacement for Terry Francona.
Are the Red Sox ever going to get a superstar SS again? It has been such a long time since Nomar. Yes I know they have other issues right now but Scutaro, Renteria, Lugo and an on again off again Lowrie just seem to not meet expectations. If Theo couldn't fix that position then who will?
— Todd Mayuski, Clermont, Fla.
When we look back at Theo Epstein's tenure in Boston, we will always think about the two World Series championships. We'll look at his ability to draft and develop some terrific players. But we'll also have to remember the areas he struggled in: Finding a star shortstop and building a bullpen. We've had plenty of names come through here, but few have found success at short. That's why re-signing Marco Scutaro was a no-brainer. He played well last season, especially in September when the clubhouse was falling apart around him. Jed Lowrie will have to prove he can stay healthy over a long season before he gets a chance to become an everyday player.
Will we be seeing the on-field golf tournament, etc. bonding this year in Fort Myers this spring, or do you think it's going to be a grim, business-only atmosphere? Which do you think would be preferable?
–Cara Chapel, Spruce Pine, N.C.
Ahhh, the "Second Base Cup" — my favorite part of spring training last year. For the record, Kevin Youkilis — a non-golfer — won the closest to the pin (actually, second base) competition we held in Ft. Myers. We're hoping to have a similar competition next February, and while a new manager will undoubtedly want this team hitting the complex with a serious work ethic, we hope the team is still willing to show its personality a little bit. I'm generally a centrist so somewhere in the middle, between "grim" and "wild" is probably the best place to be.