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Sox close deal

Papelbon signs, avoids arbitration

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / January 20, 2010

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Despite predictions that Jonathan Papelbon could be the first Red Sox player to go to arbitration during general manager Theo Epstein’s tenure, the closer agreed to a contract yesterday. Papelbon, along with fellow relievers Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez, are set with one-year deals for 2010.

Those agreements leave Jeremy Hermida as the lone arbitration-eligible player on Boston’s roster, and the outfielder and the team exchanged figures yesterday.

Papelbon signed for the second straight year just before the deadline to exchange arbitration figures, this time for $9.35 million with incentives that could increase his salary to $9.5 million, according to a team source. Papelbon was paid $6.25 million last season, the most ever for a first-year arbitration-eligible closer.

Delcarmen’s deal will pay him $905,000 with a $15,000 incentive if he pitches in 65 games, one more than he pitched in last season, according to a baseball source. The reliever, who was eligible for arbitration for the first time, agreed to terms right around the noon deadline. Delcarmen went 5-2 with 44 strikeouts and 34 walks in 59 2/3 innings in 2009.

According to a team source, Ramirez agreed to a $1.155 million deal. Ramirez went 7-4 with 52 strikeouts and 32 walks in 69 2/3 innings with the Sox last season.

Papelbon has maintained that he wants to move the bar higher for relievers’ contracts, and he has done so with yesterday’s deal. He has repeatedly said that he is not afraid to go year-to-year rather than sign a long-term deal (a preference shared by the organization), thus giving up security for more money. The deal makes sense for the Red Sox, who prefer not to sign relievers to long-term contracts and because they have a viable closer-in-waiting in Daniel Bard.

The deal sets a record for a closer with four years of service, besting the $8 million Eric Gagné was paid in 2005. Six closers will earn more than Papelbon next season: the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera ($15 million), the Reds’ Francisco Cordero ($12 million), the Phillies’ Brad Lidge and the Mets’ Francisco Rodriguez ($11.5 million), the Twins’ Joe Nathan ($11.25 million), and the Indians’ Kerry Wood ($10.5 million).

Papelbon converted 38 of 41 save opportunities in 2009, pitching 68 innings, with a 1.85 ERA. His ERA was down from 2008 (2.34), but perhaps the more notable change was his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), which increased to a career-high 1.15. His WHIP was 0.95 in 2008 and 0.77 in 2007. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also sank to a career low (for any of his full seasons in the majors) of 3.17-1. He put up a mark of 9.63-1 in 2008 and 5.60-1 in 2007. He set a career high in walks with 24.

With the signing of Papelbon, it’s likely the biggest barrier to Epstein’s unblemished arbitration record has been removed. But Hermida remained without an agreement yesterday, though there is time before arbitration hearings take place at the beginning of February.

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