Red Sox Should at Least Kick Tires on Jonathan Papelbon Trade, Evaluate Cost of Dealing for Closer

Jonathan PapelbonBelieve it or not, July is almost here.

That’s crazy to think about. It seems like just yesterday we had no idea what offseason direction the Red Sox were going to go in, and now the question is whether they’ll consider making a splash at the trade deadline as they march toward a potential division crown. The season is still young, but it’s aging fast, and the Red Sox have shown that they’re for real.

Boston — like any team, really — has some issues. The Sox aren’t perfect, even if they have fired on all cylinders for the majority of 2013. The biggest concern might be the team’s bullpen, which was shaken up a bit by Andrew Bailey‘s struggles. Now, with Bailey out as closer, the Red Sox must decide what their long-term plan is at the position. Could their next move involve checking on an old friend?

You asked that and more in this week’s mailbag. Let’s get down to it, shall we?

There’s such a different feeling with the Red Sox this year than in the past couple of seasons. Is it John Farrell and the respect he garners? Is it the on-field personnel and their willingness to play small ball and do whatever it takes to win? Is it Ben Cherington and his being able to assemble a staff to give the best chance to win? What do you think?
— Pam Bergeron

I’ll take “D. All of the above.”

That answer might sound like a copout, but the Red Sox’ success this season isn’t because of one particular area. Instead, it’s the culmination of a number of factors.

It’s obvious that the players respect John Farrell, who, in my opinion, will be a Manager of the Year candidate if the Red Sox make a playoff run. I don’t think that he’s really been tested yet — not a whole lot of adversity has crossed his desk — but the players are buying into his leadership. Farrell has had a firm handle on the club since Day 1, and there appears to be a distinct reason behind each of his decisions — something that wasn’t always the case during Bobby Valentine’s tumultuous one-year stint.

Ben Cherington certainly deserves a lot of credit for assembling this squad. The Red Sox went into the offseason with a plan, and although they may have overpaid for a few guys, including Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster, they executed the plan. The result has been a team that’s capable of winning now and that should only get better as the restocked farm system continues to develop.

Cherington and Co. went out and added players who are both talented and high in character. We’ve since seen a more team-oriented approach by everyone in the clubhouse, and it’s undoubtedly a much different atmosphere than the one that surrounded the Red Sox last season. All of this put the Red Sox into a position to succeed. It was simply a matter of execution, and the team has fired on all cylinders thus far.

Do you think the Red Sox have a chance to win the World Series?
— Austin Pok Dionne

I wouldn’t label the Red Sox a “favorite.” But I absolutely think that they have a chance this year.

Before the season, I would have told you that you were nuts. But nearly three hard-fought months later, it’s hard to doubt them. The Red Sox do a lot of things well, and they’re a lot deeper than I originally gave them credit for. In a down year for the American League, that could be enough for them to make a deep playoff run.

Ultimately, if this team has World Series aspirations, everything will need to come together. Jon Lester is struggling, Clay Buchholz is battling a nagging injury and the bullpen is all out of whack. But while those issues cast some doubt over whether this is a championship-caliber team, the Red Sox have battled through each hiccup, and they could be better at the year’s end because of it.

Does anyone think that the Red Sox would be interested in Jonathan Papelbon at the trade deadline?
— Rob Bisson

I do.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. came out and said last week that Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee are absolutely not available in the trade market. That’s hard to believe, though, especially if the Phillies fall out of contention and have a chance to receive quality assets in exchange for their high-priced veterans.

If Papelbon becomes available, the Red Sox would be wise to at least inquire about the 32-year-old. I thought that the Sox made the right decision when they let Papelbon walk away. I don’t agree with overpaying for saves, and four years and $50 million just seemed like way too much for a closer not named Mariano Rivera. But looking at the Red Sox’ current closer situation, it’s hard to think of a good reason why they shouldn’t kick the tires on a possible reunion.

Andrew Bailey could find his way, restore his confidence and show John Farrell enough to eventually become the team’s closer again. If that happens, the Red Sox’ bullpen will be in much better shape, as relievers like Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Andrew Miller will be guaranteed to pitch in their more natural roles. If Bailey struggles, though, it’ll be hard to enter the stretch run feeling confident about the back end of a jumbled ‘pen.

Papelbon has had a couple of hiccups recently, but he’s been a rock since joining the Phillies. There’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t immediately stabilize the Boston bullpen. Plus, he has playoff experience — something that Bailey lacks — and that experience can’t be discredited when you’re talking about pitching in the high-pressure atmosphere of Boston.

It’ll obviously come down to the cost of acquiring Papelbon, as well as Philadelphia’s willingness to move him. We’ve seen in the past that the price to acquire top-shelf relief help can skyrocket near the trade deadline, and you’ve got to think that the Red Sox would be competing with a number of teams for Papelbon’s services. That group would likely include the Tigers, whose bullpen situation is so awful and so detrimental that they could end up overpaying in terms of prospects.

The Red Sox should and probably will check in with the Phillies about Papelbon’s availability at some point. Where the talks go from there is a mystery. Boston’s desperation — or lack thereof — should become much clearer once we see how the bullpen responds to Bailey being removed as closer.

Now that the NFL is well-established in Europe with teams playing regular-season games here, do you think that MLB would consider following that example? It would be great to see the Red Sox here in London.
— Christopher Pease

Sure, why not?

It’s been a consideration in the past, and if the league can find the right venues to host such games, I could absolutely see it happening. I’m not sure that it would become a regular occurrence like the NFL’s model, but MLB has made it a priority to globalize the game. Look no further than next year’s season-opening series in Sydney, Australia.

Do you think in the future that the Red Sox’ front office will bring in Nomar Garciaparra like they did with Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek?
–Alex, Nashua, N.H.

It’s possible. It’s hard to predict such moves, but Nomar Garciaparra signing a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Red Sox back in 2010 showed the mutual respect that exists between the two sides. Keep in mind that Nomar is doing a good job on the TV side of things, though.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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