Is Papelbon Papelgone?

The hundred or so days between now and the day pitchers and catchers report will likely be the longest of Jonathan Papelbon’s 28 years. Consistently dominant since bursting onto the scene in 2005 and ascending to closer in 2006, including 27 scoreless innings in the postseason, Boston’s big-game pitcher came up small on an October Sunday;  blowing the save and ending the Red Sox 2009 season earlier than many had predicted and hoped. Is Red Sox Nation wrong calling for a trade of their All-Star closer or are they on to something?

Papelbon’s Value

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Papelbon has made $6.5 million dollars in 2009, pending final bonus tallies, and is again entering what will likely be a costly arbitration showdown with the front office. Given the Red Sox hesitancy in handing out long-term deals, especially to relief pitchers (notable exception Keith Foulke was signed to a 3 year deal after the 2003 season) Papelbon is likely headed out of Boston when he hits free agency.

For comparison, Foulke’s previous three years before signing with Boston:

  • 2001 –  2.33 ERA,  0.975 WHIP, 3.41 K/BB, 42 saves
  • 2002 –  2.90, ERA, 1.00 , 4.46 K/BB, 11 saves
  • 2003 –  2.08 ERA,  0.888 WHIP, 4.40 K/BB, 43 saves

And Jonathan Papelbon’s past three seasons:

  • 2007 – 1.85 ERA, 0.771 WHIP, 5.60 K/BB, 37 saves
  • 2008 – 2.34 ERA, 0.952 WHIP, 9.63 K/BB, 41 saves
  • 2009 – 1.85 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, 3.17 K/BB, 38 saves

Papelbon is certainly correct to value himself among the top relievers in baseball, though he has seen an increase in his WHIP and dramatic fluctuation in his strikeout to walk ratio. Foulke’s numbers were remarkably consistent over the three year period. Foulke stands out as the only reliever the Red Sox have signed to a long-term contract. Alan Embree, Hideki Okajima, John Halama, J.C. Romero, and even old standby Mike Timlin have been lesser pickups with upside (some more than others).

Future Team Needs

The Red Sox certainly do not have to trade their righty reliever, but they may explore it for reasons unrelated to fan outrage and a blown postseason save. Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, J.D. Drew, and Victor Martinez will all see their contracts expire over the next two years. And Tim Wakefield will be defying the rigors of age once again. And don’t forget about Jason Bay approaching free agency at the end of this postseason! This is partially good news; should those players leave for draft picks, the Red Sox could be in for another bumper crop of prospects just as they were after 2004 and 2005 which netted them Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia among others.

In the meantime, this team is still very talented but could use help at shortstop, third or first base, catcher and above all, a power bat – no matter what position that person plays. The issue here is to find a match. I would look into trading Papelbon if the return is right. Billy Wagner wants to close, and with Papelbon gone, he could be the bridge to the Daniel Bard closer era. Supported by Ramon Ramirez and Okajima, this is still one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Where Papelbon Could Go

But who needs a closer?  The Cubs are a big market team who disappointed on many levels, have at least a partial opening at closer with Carlos Marmol already in the fold as an elite setup man.  They also have the financial resources to lock up an ace long term.

Another target would be the Angels’ Scott Kazmir. A package centered around Papelbon and perhaps Josh Reddick or another young outfielder (Abreu and Vlad are both free agents) for Kazmir and Brandon Wood would give the Red Sox a young solution for the left side of the infield as well as a potentially dominant rotation. Kazmir has some injury history, which is why the Angels were able to pick him up on the cheap in August, but Papelbon would put all their Brian Fuentes worries behind them. With a $9 million dollar salary for 2010 and a vesting option for 2011, the Red Sox may have to take on Fuentes’ salary or provide some cash in the deal, but both teams could emerge from it stronger.

They don’t need to trade Papelbon, but it doesn’t hurt to look.

Yankees Shopping List 2009

It was hardly a surprise last year that the Yankees acquired C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeria, and A.J. Burnett, though it was speculated that Derek Lowe could have fulled one of the pitching needs; it was clear the Bronx Bombers had plenty of dollars coming off the books.

This year the market doesn’t have quite the supply of stars to refill their roster, but with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, and Andy Pettitte all set to leave as free agents, the AL East is likely to add a few fresh faces.  Just these four players open up $38 million of 2009’s $201 million payroll.

With nearly $40 million to spend it isn’t unreasonable for the Yankees to sign two of the premier free agents – Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, John Lackey – and solve their outfield and DH holes or shore up a rotation that has seen Joba Chamberlain struggle, Phil Hughes take to the 8th inning very well, and Ian Kennedy fail to stay healthy.

If offense if their goal, signing both Bay and Holliday would be possible with a enough left over to lure one fo the Injured Threesome of Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, and Erik Bedard to the Bronx for a year.

Aaron Hill: Comeback Player of the Year

While Hill had a great season, setting career highs in many categories, and recovered from the concussion that ended his season last year, he is not a good example of a comeback player.

Victor Martinez, after posting an OPS of at least .851 from 2004-2007 provided a meager .701 last year and rebounded in 2009 with an .861 – second highest in his career. That is a comeback. Aaron Hill had a career year, but he didn’t “come back” to his previous level of play like NL winner Chris Carpenter.

Joe Mauer: MVP?

Mauer, taken first overall in the 2001 draft (ahead of Mark Prior, which has seemed better and better) tore through the minor leagues as an offensive and defensive powerhouse at catcher; a rare find to be sure.  The local boy lived up to expectations in his first full season in the majors putting up a line of .294/.372/.411 in 2005.  He led the American League in batting in 2006 hitting .347 and again in 2008 hitting .328.  2006 also saw his career high in home runs: 13.

Entering 2009 Mauer’s home run totals were 6,9,13,7 and 9 or a total of 44.  Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA forecast projected Mauer at 10 home runs this year and a modest .307 batting average.  Not content to stay within the margins of his career norms, Mauer came out swinging hitting .366 with 28 home runs (more than half his career total!) in a season he began on the disabled list.  Even more impressive, Joe has carried the Twins to a tie for the division lead with the Tigers, even with his slugging partner Justin Morneau getting shut down for the season in mid-September.

With at least one game left in 2009, Mauer is set to win his third batting title, the only catcher in history to do so. Mauer is currently tied with Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi as the only catcher to win 2 such awards. Other players have had good and even great seasons this year, but Joe Mauer, is leading not only in advanced statistics, but all 3 slash stats.  Combined with his defense, you can’t be more valuable than that.