Other than the continuing bizarre saga of Jonathan Papelbon's hair -- remember the "Wild Thing" mohawk?; it's now long on the top and back and more close-shaven on the sides -- the erstwhile closer looked almost ready for the season to start. After an offseason of hunting with Eli Manning and others, Papelbon's eager to get back to starting. At least, he is now. ("We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," was the oft-repeated response to the continued closing question.)
Meanwhile, Papelbon seemed to indicate that he's unlikely to sign a long-term deal before he's eligible for arbitration, which would occur after the 2008 season as long as he stays on the major league roster for the next two years. If he's as healthy and strong as he believes he will be, with a possible 15-win season ahead of him, it wouldn't seem to be the prudent financial move. And, yes, he did happen to mention Cub Carlos Zambrano's recent filing for an impressive $15.5 million in arbitration.
"My agent's talked a little bit with Theo [Epstein], here and there," Papelbon said. "But for me, the longer they wait, the longer I'm waiting, you know? For me, it makes no sense if I'm a year away from arbitration, and my shoulder is healthy, and I go through the season with no problems, and they don't lock me up by [the] All-Star break, I'll probably go to arbitration, just because I'm healthy. If I come off a 15-win, 20-win season, I'm going to arbitration, because that's just lost money. We'll see. It's fun. It's interesting, you know?"
But first he's got to revisit the curveball that he abandoned all of last season for his superior fastball, splitter, and slider. That's coming along, as he continues to get the feel and touch back. Though, he joked, it's less of a 12-to-6 curve than a 1-to-4 curve. We'll see how hitters treat that.
Other than that, Papelbon's anticipating the four-man battle for his vacated closer's role, assuming that at least one guy will grab the role in spring training. He's willing to give out tips, in case Brendan Donnelly or Joel Pineiro or Julian Tavarez or Devern Hansack or Craig Hansen are reading the blog...
And, finally, as promised, that duck recipe that Papelbon shared, since I know most of you already have a fresh duck ready to prepare Papelbon-style this very evening to celebrate the start of spring training. I would, but my hotel room happens to lack cooking facilities. Guess I'll have to wait until I head back up to Boston.
Marinate the duck in Coke (yes, you read that correctly) and Italian dressing in a Ziploc bag. (Papelbon said the soda removes the game-y flavor from the duck.) Then slice the duck breast into four pieces. Wrap each of those in bacon, jalapeno peppers, and sour cream. And then, in his words, "throw it all on a grill, and it's amazing."
Thanks, Jonathan, we'll take your word for it.