Did the Red Sox Miss Out on Roy Oswalt?

The past offseason didn’t just have an elephant in the room – it had an elephant the entire room was on top of stampeding down the streets of Boston like a pachyderm “rolling rally.” If this elephant had a first name, like the song goes, it would be P-I-T-C-H, and it’s second name would be I-N-G. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Bard, Lackey, you name it, pitching was a problem for Ben Cherington to solve during his early days as Red Sox General Manager. But how? Well, one potential solution was to sign Roy Oswalt.

Theo Epstein had a philosophy when it came to pitchers: the shorter the better. No one-year deal, unless outrageously expensive, could really come back to hurt a big market team like the Red Sox. It’s a sound strategy that any team could get behind. While John Smoltz and Brad Penny didn’t work out, the highest profile pitchers the Sox practiced this strategy with, teams often pick up a guy from the scrapheap and hope for the best. Just look at the Kevin Millwood and Bartolo Colon renaissances of the past few years. Yes, Millwood was let go by the Sox, but he wasn’t showing the same stuff in the minors that he would in the majors. No one could have seen this type of run coming from the veteran.

Back to Oswalt: rumors during the winter and spring were that he wanted to pitch close to home in Mississippi. When he eventually signed with the Texas Rangers, it made a lot of sense. Now, Oswalt has come out to defend his choice, and has said in no uncertain terms “I never got anything” from the Red Sox. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal discussed the recruitment process with the hurler and Oswalt said that while a number of teams expressed interest, the Dodgers, Phillies, and Red Sox never actually pulled the trigger to make formal, final offers to sign him.

Oswalt isn’t the young gun he was when the Astros were in the World Series – the righty has chronic back issues – and the Red Sox had Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook waiting in the wings to help out a beleaguered rotation. Not making an offer, with the team already spending a considerable amount of money on pitchers (John Lackey) who wouldn’t even play this season, might not have been the best use of money. The bullpen at the time was a complete unknown, the outfield was in shambles, and Kevin Youkilis was a shadow of himself after missing the end of the 2011 season.

So what did the Red Sox miss out on? To start with, Oswalt has taken his lumps with the Rangers: in 29.1 innings he has a 5.22 ERA. However, things aren’t as bad as they look, at least results wise. Additionally, sandwiched by strong outings, Oswalt had back-to-back disastrous outings. On June 27th he gave up five runs in six innings to the potent Tigers lineup. Next time out: eleven runs (nine earned) in just four and two-thirds innings against the White Sox. His other three starts: 18.2 innings and just three runs allowed.

Oswalt still remembers how to strike people out too: 25 Ks in his 29.1 innings this year compared to just 6 walks.

At the end of the day, the Red Sox probably just didn’t think Oswalt could stay healthy. Sure enough, Oswalt was supposed to face the Sox during their series this week but was scratched because his back, as it has in recent years, acted up. Oswalt is on track to start Monday, but just a day ago that start was to be Sunday. And a few days before that, he was certain to start on Saturday. Given the Red Sox substantial disabled list obligations at the time Oswalt signed, the front office probably couldn’t justify adding a player who, no matter what the upside, wasn’t likely to remain healthy for even half a season.

(cross-posted at Sports of Boston)

The Marlins Become a Supervillain

This past winter the Marlins were the talk of the town. Rather than cutting salary and penny-pinching, the Fish were binging on “new stadium revenue” while signing Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, and Jose Reyes.

One disappointing half-season later, the team is selling once again. It started yesterday when the team shipped Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit tigers for pitching prospect Justin Turner. 

Turner, forced into the Tigers rotation, had struggled in three starts this season, giving up 1 1 runs in 12.1 innings. In fourteen minor league starts this season, Turner threw 84.1 innings to a 3.16 ERA while striking out 57 and walking 31. Not dominating numbers, but in their 2012 annual, Baseball Prospectus said he could “become Rick Porcello with more punchouts. That’s even better than it sounds.” And he seems on track to do just that. Plus, facing the pitcher three times a game in the DH-less league never hurts either.

Of course, Sanchez is a pending free agent and with the reworked compensation picks for departing players, if a team doesn’t plan on making a large offer, it might be better served to take a lesser package of prospects than the potential draft pick.

Josh Johnson, Heath Bell, and Hanley Ramirez are not free agents at the end of this season, yet all three are rumored to be on the block. Ken Rosenthal reports that all three, plus Randy Choate and recent acquisition Carlos Lee are being made available. Rosenthal reports that the team would “absolutely try and try hard” to trade Bell months after signing him is concerning on several levels.

Bob Nightengale says that the Hanley Ramirez sweepstakes incudes the Athletics, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. 

Ramirez, of course, began his career as a Red Sox and was traded, along with Anibal Sanchez, for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Unfortunately for Ramirez, since his career year in 2008, where he won the NL batting title, his power and speed have declined to levels not approaching his superstar talent. Still just 28, he’s the prefect “change of scenery” guy to acquire.

Oh yeah, the supervillain part, courtesty of Out of My Vulcan Mind: trade everything!

Yankees Rebuild Rotation with Pineda, Kuroda Yankees Rebuild Rotation with Pineda, Kuroda

Last night the New York Yankees, quiet players in the offseason to this point, made two moves to improve their chances in the AL East.. GM Brian Cashman shipped top prospect, Jesus Montero, possible catcher and probable DH, to the Seattle Mariners for breakout star Michael Pineda. Later that night he let the second shoe drop – signing free agent starter Hiroki Kuroda.

The past few seasons have not been kind to baseball’s perennial powerhouses. Both New York and Boston have found that their ability to roll over most of the league in the regular season is not necessarily a precursor to playoff success or, in the Red Sox case, even  guaranteed entry to the post season. Through the mid-2000s, sought after players were often fought over in bidding wars between these titans, and the American League Wild Card was the consolation prize that allowed both teams to play into October. After the emergence of the Tamp Bay Rays, however, the road to the World Series became more complicated. Major League Baseball has seen the Rays, Blue Jays, Rangers, and even the lowly Kansas City Royals build strong organizations despite less financial might than Boston and New York. As much as Yankees GM Brian Cashman is a product of having the largest wallet in sports history, his work yesterday created a truly horrific Friday the 13th for Red Sox Nation.

In Michael Pineda the Yankees have acquired one of the most prized commodities in baseball: young pitching. At just 22 years old (he turns 23 on January 18th) Pineda dominated the AL as a rookie while winning nine games for the offensively inept Mariners. His first season in the big leagues also brought his first appearance in the All Star Game and earned him fifth place in Rookie of the Year voting. Standing at 6’7” and capable of bringing upper 90s heat, the righthander is likely a star in the making. His rookie success wasn’t just small sample sizes either as Pineda tossed 171 innings while racking up just over a strikeout per frame. Combined with a walk rate of just 2.9 per nine innings, he brought swing and miss stuff as well as command. As a bit of extra sweetener in the deal, Pineda came bundled with five full years of team control.

At 36 years old Hiroki Kuroda is no spring chicken, but he remains a fierce competitor. The Japanese righty arrived relatively unheralded from Japan and has quietly put together a nice major league resume. In three of his four years in America, Kuroda has tossed between 183 and 202 innings, only in his injury-shortened 2009 did he not start at least 31 games per season. Unlike some older pitchers who enter MLB to succeed their first year because teams have not yet built up a scouting profile of their arsenal, Kuroda has actually improved as he becomes more familiar with American baseball. His strikeout rate has inceased from 5.7 per 9 in 2008 to 7.2 per 9 in 2011 and his strikeout to walk ratio was at least 3.29 since 2009. A one-year deal for just $10 or $11 million dollars is a bargain for the veteran. The Yankees are able to limit their risk on an older pitcher moving to the toughest division in the harder league. With research showing that strikeout rates for pitchers peaks at age 25, acquiring both a young up and comer and a veteran who has so far bucked this trend, the Yankees have had a very good twenty-four hours of preparing their team for the 2012 season. A rotation lead by C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Hiroki Kuroda takes pressure off of the unpredictable A.J. Burnett and the still developing Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.

These acquisition have made the Red Sox rotation, their major strength over the Yankees, weaker in comparison. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz are a good match for the Yankees top three and with Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard transitioning to the rotation, the back end of the Boston rotation has quite a bit of upside. With the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays in the division as well, the Red Sox have almost 60 games against tough division rivals.

Dan Duquette Finally Back in Baseball as Orioles GM: What’s Next?

In a year where it seems like every team has been hunting for a general manager, dozens of names have been tossed about: former GMs, assistant GMs ready to take over for their current team or accept a promotion with another team, and long-rumored potential candidates like Kim Ng. One name that didn’t get much attention until he emerged as the front-runner in Baltimore: former Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette. After nearly a decade away from a management job in Major League Baseball, Duquette has returned to rebuild a Red Sox rival in a tough AL East.

End of an Era

Dan Duquette was the last GM of the Yawkey ownership and failed to end the championship drought while the team was still owned by the family. During the eight seasons between 1994 when he won the job and 2002 when he was fired, Duquette’s teams went 656-574, reaching the playoffs three times and taking home one AL East division title. Duquette drafted Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Youkilis, although the latter didn’t reach the majors during Duquette’s time in Boston. He acquired Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe in trades. He brought Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to Boston, and for what it’s worth, eventually freed the team of clubhouse cancer and dinosaur denier Carl Everett. These moves built the foundation that the Red Sox would transform into some of the greatest teams to take the field under John Henry’s ownership.

On the other hand, Duquette draftee Justin Duchscherer was traded for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli and plucky  shortstop David Eckstein was lost on waivers to the Angels. Duquette also failed to sign Mark Teixeira, a move which could have altered the fortunes of the early 2000s Red Sox tremendously.

Overall his tenure in Boston was nothing to sneeze at, and maybe, had the Yankees not gone on such an amazing run at the end of the last century, one of Duquette’s teams could have gotten lucky and made a run at a World Series. With Pedro and Nomar in their primes, a few breaks in the Sox favor could have changed history.

However, the Red Sox string of second place finishes and their inability to make it past the ALCS during Duquette’s reign left the fans wanting more. The bad taste surrounding Duquette’s time in Boston would be forever tied to one moment in 1996 when the GM said these words: “The Red Sox and our fans were fortunate to see Roger Clemens play in his prime and we had hoped to keep him in Boston during the twilight of his career.”  The twilight of his career. Those words would sting Red Sox Nation while Clemens took his skills to Toronto, New York, and Houston, winning Cy Young awards along the way and made Duquette look foolish.

Today we know that part of Clemens’ rejuvenation was fueled by performance enhancing drugs. While this may be of little consolation to Duquette, it at least partially validates his assessment of Clemens in the mid-90s.

When John Henry’s ownership group completed their purchase of the Red Sox there was still a lot of work to be done before Henry could really make the team his own. In his behind the scenes book about the Red Sox, Feeding the Monster, Seth Mnookin describes the Duquette days as “needlessly combative.” Henry said the secrecy surrounding the team was worrisome and that under his control the Sox would be “committed to being open and having open lines of communication” in response to stories about minor league pitching coaches worrying about being fired if they spoke to the press. The money quote from a reporter Henry relayed to Mnookin: “Get out your broom and sweep out the Duke.” When Duquette reached the end of the road in Boston, he landed hard.

After Boston

The aftermath for Dan Duquette was not as welcoming as the GM shuffle that has taken place this year. The former Red Sox and Expos executive found himself shut out of the exclusive network of Major League Baseball. In America. Duquette was part of a team that formed the Israel Baseball League. The league lasted just one season, 2007. However, Israel, denied a team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, will be participating in the 2013 WBC. At the very least, the effort helped baseball gain traction in another country, while graduating several players to other professional baseball leagues.

Now that Dan Duquette is back in the helm of a team, time will tell if the executive can rebuild a historic franchise. Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Weiters form the core to build around. Uber-prospect Manny Machado looms on the horizon, and the O’s have a stable of pitching prospects who have struggled with injuries, ineffectiveness or both.

With a three-year contract in place, Duquette has his work set out for him, the AL East is a tough division with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays battling each other for playoff contention, and the Blue Jays are pretty good too. The next wave of prospects should arrive during Duquette’s tenure and if he can surround them with some excellent under the radar pickups while drafting well, the Orioles could make enough progress to keep him around long enough to see his team be competitive.

The ultimate wild card: the Orioles have money. Baltimore was in on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes a few years ago and it wouldn’t be impossible to see them surface as a mystery team for Prince Fielder or even Albert Pujols. At the end of the day, Duquette may leave his mark on baseball as an Oriole, rather than a Red Sox.

 

Cross-posted from Sports of Boston

Don’t Blame the Game, Blame the Player(s)

The 2011 season is the low-point for the John Henry-owned Red Sox. Not since 2003 has Red Sox Nation faced such a tragedy. This year, however, there was no Aaron Boone moment to provide a quick death to Boston’s World Series ambitions. This was a death by a thousand paper cuts. Eight-year manager Terry Francona and the Red Sox have already parted ways, on somewhat mutual terms, and general manager Theo Epstein may be next to go. The training staff and pitching coach Curt Young may need to dust off their resumes as well.

Managers do have a limited shelf life (see Joe Torre’s tenure in New York) Tito should not be targeted as the bad guy here. Perhaps Epstein and Red Sox ownership wanted to bring in a different manager didn’t want to change horses in midstream. After all, why mess with success? Theo Epstein, while he shares some responsibility as GM, is likewise not the villain here. On the balance, his moves have been successful, and without injuries to key players, have built another strong core of talent in Boston. Ultimately, the blame for missing the playoffs lies with the players.

Hall Pass

Even among the 25 men who entered the season as the team to beat, there are a few players who get an immediate pass. Jacoby Ellsbury, Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon formed the core of a team that looked unstoppable for four months. At one point Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, and Gonzalez were all in contention for MVP honors, and at the end of the season Ellsbury packed his bags with a better than even shot of walking away with the award himself. We have to wait a few weeks to find out if he’s the MVP, but it’s safe to say his injury-plagued 2010 campaign is in the past for the franchise, the player, and the fans.

While he was on the mound for unlikely comebacks fueled by Orioles’ utility infielder Robert Andino, Jonathan Papelbon’s failing is a product of circumstance. The hard-throwing closer put up his best season since 2007 with rebounds in WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout to walk ratio. Whatever the righty had been lacking the past few seasons seemed to have returned. Whether it was mental, physical, or free agent year magic, Papelbon was once again a force to be reckoned with. The truth about relief pitchers, closers especially, is that outside of Mariano Rivera there is no such thing as a guarantee. Even Rivera isn’t perfect, but he sets unrealistic expectations for every other pitcher. If Carl Crawford makes a play that one of the best outfielders in baseball is expected to make, Papelbon gets out of the inning. In the big picture, Papelbon may have been on the mound when the season ended, but he performed as a top tier closer this season.

Without question, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz are absolved from the collapse due to injury. Buchholz’s absence was probably the single largest factor in the Red Sox disappointing finish as his replacements, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, and Kyle Weiland, all failed to perform at his level, but the circumstances regarding his availability were out of his control. Thankfully his back should be fully healed and ready to go in spring training.

Rocks and Hard Places

While Carl Crawford was certainly the most disappointing player on the Red Sox in 2011 (2010: .307/.356/.495 with 19 HR and 46 SB, 2011: .255/.289/.405 with 11 HR and 18 SB), the Red Sox still lead the league in runs, hits, doubles, on-base percentage, and slugging while taking second place in walks and third place in home runs and triples. Don’t let sports radio fool you: this was one of the best teams ever and Carl Crawford’s down year was nothing compared to Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, or Vernon Wells. People are looking to blame beer, conditioning, computers, the manager, pitching coach, and more for the Red Sox bloated payroll and lack of playoff wins since the 2008 ALCS. Those people are wrong. The blame for missing the playoffs (aside from Clay Buchholz’s aforementioned back) rests solely on the pitching staff. Primarily on three men: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and of course, John Lackey.

Don’t misunderstand, Lester and Beckett were valuable contributors this season. Lester made 31 starts, threw 191 innings and struck out almost a batter per nine innings. Beckett enjoyed a tremendous bounce-back season after a very disappointing 2010 and ended the year with an ERA under three for the first time in his career while cutting his walk rate by nearly one per nine innings. Both had terrific seasons.

The problem? Josh Beckett made four starts in September. In back-to-back outings against the Baltimore Orioles he allowed 6 runs. Beckett allowed more than three runs in a start just six times this season: three times against Baltimore and once each against the Yankees, Phillies, and Mariners.

Lester similarly hit a rough stretch at the end of the year. Fresh off a decent outing against the Yankees where he allowed one run over five innings on September 1st and a dominant 7-inning, 11 strikeout, 3 hit, zero run performance against the Blue Jays five days later, a series of bad starts came as a surprise. In his next two starts Lester faced off against the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed four runs in four innings and four runs in seven innings in Tropicana Field and Fenway Park respectively. He also allowed as many walks as strikeouts (7) over the two losses. Lester would then face the Yankees in a 2.2 inning, 8 run disaster. The Sox lefty did recover somewhat in Game 162, allowing just two runs in six difficult innings, while pitching on three days rest. Although the bullpen would eventually cost Lester the win, this is not the type of game that brings down teams – a few such losses every season are impossible to prevent.

The bigger issue facing Terry Francona heading in to the season finale: with a seriously depleted back end of the the rotation, why couldn’t his aces come through with just one more win? Both starters entering slumps as the season drew to a close left Francona with little ability to right the ship. But two pitchers do not a rotation make. There was another veteran pitcher on the staff. A “bulldog” on the mound who took the ball every five days and liked to see every game through to the finish. A prized free agent acquisition. This was of course, John Lackey.

A New World of Trouble

When the John Lackey deal was first announced the biggest question it raised was “what does this mean for Josh Beckett?” Entering his last season before free agency, Beckett, somewhat replaced by Jon Lester for the title of staff ace since the 2007 season concluded, seemed sure to depart once Lackey was in the fold. Rumors about a bidding war with the Yankees were aleady swirling. The former Angel was no longer at his best, but with Lester ascending to the top of the rotation, Lackey surely could handle the duties of a number two or three starter with Clay Buchholz emerging and Daisuke Matsuzaka still attempting to harness the great stuff he showed in Japan where he was nothing short of dominant.

After the Red Sox extended Josh Beckett, expectations for the starting staff were nothing short of historic. The Red Sox entered the 2010 season with what some termed as one of the deepest, best starting rotations ever assembled (of course, this was before the four-headed monster in Philadelphia). By the end of the opening weekend in 2010, Lackey was not being asked to anchor the staff for years to come, merely to fill a role doing what he did best: eat innings with gusto and give his team a chance to win every time he took the mound. Today, he is possibly the worst pitcher in baseball.

After a disappointing first season in Boston which saw Lackey go 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA, a career worst 1.419 WHIP and the second lowest K/9 of his career it didn’t seem like things could get much worse. He dealt with some off-field issues during the season and was pitching in the AL East rather than the AL West for the first time in his career. A new team, new park, and a new division generate a good amount of slack for a struggling athlete. Lackey entered 2011 with muted expectations.

What happened this season cannot be described as less than disaster. Lackey, a competitor on the mound, had become a shell of himself. This much is not new. What is: after his final appearance of the season, Lackey was 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA. Yes, John Lackey was a .500 pitcher this season. Pitcher wins measure something, but more of them doesn’t necessarily indicate value.

For reference, a quality start consists of six innings of work in which the starting pitcher allows three runs or fewer. In other words, a pitcher who always turned in quality starts would have an ERA of 4.50 at the strictest definition. On June 5th, Lackey’s ERA stood at a whopping 8.01 before his start against the Oakland A’s. The remainder of his season would consist of violent swings – positive and negative outings – but his ERA did trend downwards through the end of August. Although four earned runs in seven innings is not exactly a stellar outing, even against the Yankees.

Again, Lackey is one of the veterans on the pitching staff. He has won a World Series. He has been to the playoffs. Before arriving in Boston, Lackey was in the top few tiers of starting pitchers. As we now know, the Red Sox needed just two more wins (or Tampa Bay losses) in September to have reached the playoffs, one to have forced a 163rd game against the Rays. Oddly enough Lackey would have been in line to pitch that game. In his first three September starts, Lackey faced Texas, Tampa, and Toronto. He allowed six, five, and two runs as the Red Sox lost all three matchups. Against Toronto, while he only allowed two earned runs, Lackey lasted just 5.1 innings.

His next start was against those increasingly pesky Baltimore Orioles. Four and a third innings and eight runs later Lackey was gone. The Orioles lost 93 games this year. Their fourth straight last place finish. The Red Sox offence picked up Lackey by scoring 18 runs that day. When the Red Sox talk about getting Lackey “back on track” they certainly mean fewer outings like that one. Between 2002 and 2009 Lackey allowed six or more earned runs 20 times. In his two years with the Red Sox he has “accomplished” the feat on 12 occasions.

Looking Back

The Red Sox assembled what, at the start of the season, could be called one of the best teams ever. A lost season by Carl Crawford didn’t help them, but didn’t hold back the most potent offense in baseball. While Daisuke Matsuzaka only rarely lived up to the hype surrounding his move to America, his solid contributions, if not spectacular, were a valuable asset out of the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. As we saw this year, a pitcher who can go five or six innings and not get shelled every time he takes the mound is a valuable guy. Clay Buchholz’s back turned out to be the lead domino which, when time was running out, could not be help up by the veterans of the staff.

In any situation, when things get bad we turn to those who we most believe can save us. For the Red Sox, still possessing two of the better pitchers in the game, the playoffs were not out of reach. Two strong pitchers can carry a team through the Division Series when they are supported by a strong offense. Had Lackey pulled himself together and summoned even his 2009 era self, the collapse would have been sad, but tragedy avoided. The 2011 season was cut short because when the Red Sox needed a hero, the three guys they expected to count on all came up short.


Cross-posted at Sports of Boston

 

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.