Jonathan Papelbon wasted no time leaving Boston for Philadelphia. For four years and $50 million, who can really blame him? A couple of weeks later, fellow free agent Joe Nathan cashed in with a two-year deal worth $15 million.
Papelbon's contract will set the standard for a saturated market for closers, and giving a 36-year-old closer just two years removed from Tommy John surgery a two-year guaranteed contract for more than $7 million a year only emphasizes the point that closers are going to get paid this winter.
So what does it mean for the Red Sox? Well, it could certainly mean that "promoting" Daniel Bard to closer may make the most sense.
Suggesting that Bard take over for Papelbon is nothing ground-breaking. Bard has been something of an apprentice to Papelbon over his young career, and it was widely believed that Bard would one day assume the role of closer.
If and when that changed along the line isn't certain. If the Red Sox aren't actually considering using Bard in the closing role, there are certainly a few good reasons to do so. They could just feel that he's simply not ready for the job. They may also feel that he's better-suited to help as a setup man, perhaps even under the assumption that the outs Bard records are even more important than the one a closer does (think coming into a game with the bases loaded in the seventh or eighth). Or, they could be seriously toying with the idea of moving Bard to the rotation.
All make at least some sense, but if the Sox are seriously considering using Bard as the closer, don't the contracts of Papelbon and Nathan suggest that they might as well let Bard, a contract under their control, help make that decision easier?
Other top closing candidates on the market like Heath Bell or Ryan Madson will surely command a small fortune of their own. That money may be worth it for someone like Bell or Madson, but with Bard already under contract, wouldn't it make more sense to spend that money elsewhere?
Boston may be better-suited to use that money toward adding starting pitching help. Common sense tells you that having starters who work deeper into the game make life easier on the bullpen. By the way, that's part of the reason the Papelbon deal is just a little bit weird. He may not get a ton of save chances when Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay (58 combined complete games since 2008) are able to continue their workhorse-like ways.
The Red Sox could also use the money to add an arm to the back end of the bullpen to help set up Bard and effectively replace Bard as he moves to the closer role. There are plenty of options — both right-handed and left-handed — on the market that will come at a cheaper rate than a closer. It's no secret that Ben Cherington must overhaul the bullpen. Papelbon is gone. Bard's role is uncertain; same goes for Alfredo Aceves. Bobby Jenks is, well, Bobby Jenks. The Sox need relief help, and they need a sizable amount of it. A little extra spending money won't hurt.
Perhaps the Red Sox will sign someone who has closed in the past with the intention of using him as a setup man, while at the same time, relying on that past experience as an insurance policy in case Bard isn't the right man for the job.
Of course, the Sox could also just go a totally different direction and could even end up trading for a closer, as they have been rumored to be among the teams interested in acquiring Rockies closer Huston Street.
That's among one of the many options they still have to replace Papelbon. But as the dominoes start to fall around them, and especially if those dominoes continue to favor the market, it's beginning to make more and more sense to just to hand the keys of the (bullpen) car to Daniel Bard.
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