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Papelbon's gamble

by Christopher Hackett
Twitter: Christopher Hackett @ MrHackTastic

Jonathon Papelbon's public pursuit of testing the free agent market has been known for years. Papelbon was content to let the arbitration system take care of him while waiting for his mega pay day and setting a new standard for the way closing pitchers are paid.

Then came 2010. Papelbon's season long struggles were well documented. People now question whether he should even be the closer this year and I have heard many a fan already making bold predictions about Bard or Jenks assuming the role by year's end. If Papelbon struggles again the clamoring will certainly get louder. The story here isn't just Papelbon's struggles but really that long-term contracts for closers as a whole have proven to be bad investments.

Papelbon has seen his WHIP rise three straight years. He has had more and more trouble finishing hitters who have had too many looks at him. His walks continue to rise and he no longer has that aura of invincibility that once ended 9th innings seemingly before they started. Not many people believe the Red Sox will even make an attempt to sign him for big dollars as a closer for extended years.

While Papelbon could still get a 4 or 5 year big deal as a closer and possibly even as much as $60 million. He will certainly have a good shot at passing the Mets signing K-Rod for 3 years at $37 million. But when you consider what you could get out of Papelbon potentially if you put him in the rotation you have to wonder what he would be worth.

Papelbon's pitching arsenal is perfectly tailored to be a starting pitcher. He has the power fastball, the big frame, bulldog mentality, good slider, and a devastating splitter when he has faith in it. As a closing pitcher he rarely gets to use the excellent secondary pitches he really does have. It is hard to get a feel for your slider or splitter when you are always in the 9th inning of a tight game. When in doubt he relies on his fastball and you can understand why. If he was a starter he would look like a completely different guy. His fastball would lose a little velocity but his other pitches would finally be utilized allowing him to actually pitch and not just try to overpower.

I just can't shake the idea that he could have been coming up on a $100 million contract if he had gone into the rotation and been an even bigger star in baseball's greatest city. I am thankful for Papelbon's time here but I think in the end he lost his gamble. He was a bold young man declaring himself as the next to carry the torch for all closer's and to some small degree I guess he might. But when he essentially leaves as much as $50 million on the table you'll have to wonder if he still thinks it was worth it.


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