The Phillies have denied reports that they had a four-year, $44 million deal in place with Ryan Madson. That apparently means Jonathan Papelbon is back in play for Philadelphia.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN, the Phillies have "serious" interest in Papelbon. The question we have is whether that interest is real or a ploy to get Madson to agree to a more favorable deal. It could be both.
Papelbon's agents, Sam and Seth Levinson. have tended to work fast in recent years, believing they serve their clients best by getting in deals place quickly rather than waiting until the Winter Meetings and beyond.
It's also no secret that Papelbon has been hungering for his shot at free agency and landing a deal that will set the market for closers. In talking to Papelbon over the course of last season, there was no sense whatsoever that the Red Sox would get a hometown discount. His aim was to get in the market and get the best deal he could.
The Red Sox have said they would like to bring Papelbon back. But their enthusiasm has seemed tempered at times, Ben Cherington remarking the other day that the "bi-lateral risk" of free agency is the team going in a different direction.
In Daniel Bard, the Red Sox have a pitcher who could close for roughly 80-85 percent of the cost of Papelbon. Then the Sox could invest that money elsewhere.
Papelbon is an interesting case. He is a talented pitcher who has proven he can close in Boston and withstand the rigors of the American League East. But he had a rocky 2010 before putting together a strong 2011 ahead of free agency.
Bard adds to the intrigue. As a set-up man, he will never achieve his financial goals as that position simply is not that valued. Were Papelbon to sign a long-term deal with the Red Sox, Bard almost certainly would ask to become a starter. The Sox could grant that request or leave Bard in his current role, knowing he has no recourse but to wait for free agency after the 2014 season.
If Bard becomes the closer, he would be appeased. So to some degree the question for the Sox is whether they want to put the ninth inning in the hands of Papelbon or Bard for the next three or four years.