Each day, David Ortiz [stats] and Jonathan Papelbon [stats] are looking more and more irreplaceable.
Each day, the idea that the Red Sox can follow the route they did with Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez — and let Ortiz and Papelbon go to free agency in return for draft picks — looks like an inconceivable option.
And each day, the price-tags for Ortiz and Papelbon grow more and more expensive.
So, even though the All-Star break is a month away, hockey and basketball are still on the sports calendar and the filing date for free agency is another five months away, the future of Ortiz and Papelbon is well worth discussing now.
Facing the Yankees always lends a healthy dollop of urgency and intensity to any Red Sox-related discussion, and this trip to Yankee Stadium is no different, especially as it relates to Ortiz and Papelbon.
Ortiz remains in a beastly groove at the plate, allowing Adrian Gonzalez a well-earned respite as best hitter in the lineup. Ortiz’ second home run in as many games during last night’s 11-6 win was more a laser shot than the towering blast he jacked Tuesday night. That home run was followed with a bat flip straight out of the Ric Flair playbook. Those antics got under the skin of Yankees manager Joe Girardi, which is not the toughest thing in the world to do. The Red Sox could not have cared less that anyone had disdain for Ortiz’ familiar act, especially anyone wearing pinstripes.
But the Yankees don’t really have an issue with Ortiz, what they have is an issue with the DH position. If the Yankees were not burdened by long-term contracts with the rapidly aging Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, they would be considered prime suitors for Ortiz this winter. But Jeter, the shortstop for now, DH’d Tuesday night and Rodriguez, the third baseman for now, DH’d last night, underscoring the corner into which the Yankees have boxed themselves.
Nobody in the American League is dominating the DH “position” on Ortiz’ level right now, and at the age of 35, he is likely going to be able to command a two-year guaranteed deal on the open market at or above the current $12.5 million annual salary he is drawing.
Papelbon is a different case entirely. The fickle nature of closing is well-known. Closers burn brightly, then flame out more intensely than any other players in the game, but so far Papelbon, with some notable exceptions, has remained elite. Breaking Mariano Rivera’s major league record for being the quickest to 200 saves Tuesday night was one convenient reminder of Papelbon’s privileged status but there was another moment, too.
The placing of Bobby Jenks on the disabled list yesterday was a stark reminder of the fragility of closers, especially former closers. Remember, the Red Sox signed Jenks in the offseason to a two-year deal worth $6 million per year. He was supposed to be insurance at the back end of the bullpen in case Papelbon stumbled out of the gate or Daniel Bard failed to prove ready.
Jenks, though, has been a bust: He blew his only two save opportunities this season, his ERA is at 6.57, his WHIP at 2.35 and he’s got a .453 batting average-against.
Bard, despite a couple of meltdowns, is still having a very good season and looks like the heir apparent to the closer’s job. He surely has the talent to close, but what if Papelbon flees and the Sox decide that they can trust Bard with the closer’s job. Here’s my question: Who’s replacing Bard?
The production and performance of Papelbon (and Jenks) and the production and performance of Ortiz in 2011 is beginning to jumble the Sox’ time frame for making a decision.