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The rising cost to replace Jonathan Papelbon

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  May 11, 2013 11:39 AM

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In retrospect, perhaps the Red Sox should have just held their nose and paid Jonathan Papelbon.

The team's quest to replace their All-Star closer, who left the Sox has a free agent following the 2011 season, has been one of various twists, turns and missteps. Consider:

December 21, 2010: The Red Sox signed Bobby Jenks to a two-year, $12 million deal to be Papelbon's set-up man. The hope at the time was that Jenks would be available as a cost-efficient closer in 2012 if Papelbon were to leave as a free agent.

Jenks ended up pitching in only 19 games (to a 6.32 ERA) before injuries ended his career. He never appeared on the roster after July 7, 2011 and was released a year later following a contract settlement.

November 14, 2011: Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies with a vesting option for 2016. The Red Sox never made him an offer.

December 28, 2011: The Red Sox obtained Oakland righthander Andrew Bailey to be their closer. They also picked up outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the deal. The Sox sent the Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick, minor league infielder Miles Head and minor league righthander Raul Alcantara.

Bailey spent the first four and a half months of the 2012 season on the disabled list after tearing a thumb ligament in a spring training game. He pitched poorly upon returning.

Bailey pitched very well this season before a strained biceps muscle landed him on the disabled list. Given his frequent trips to the DL in recent seasons, projecting his value moving forward is difficult. He is under team control for next season.

Bailey has been paid $8 million over two seasons. Sweeney received $1.75 million in 2011.

Sweeney hit a pedestrian .260/.303/.373 over 63 games in 2012 before being lost for the season in July when he punched a metal door and broke a knuckle. He was then released in spring training and is now with the Cubs.

Reddick had a productive season for Oakland in 2012 given his 32 home runs and 85 RBIs. He also won a Gold Glove for his play in right field. Those achievements masked a .242 batting average and .305 OBP.

Reddick got off to a poor start this season (.152/.266/.250) before going on the disabled list with a wrist injury.

Head showed promise in Double A last season. He has struggled so far this season. Alcantara is in Single A ball.

December 26, 2012: The Red Sox obtain Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh to be their closer. They also received infielder Brock Holt in the deal in exchange for RHP Mark Melancon, minor league RHP Stolmy Pimentel, minor league infielder Ivan De Jesus and minor league OF/1B Jerry Sands.

Hanrahan was then signed to a one-year, $7.04 million deal. He pitched in nine games before suffering a season-ending injury.

Melancon has been stellar for the Pirates, posting an 0.50 ERA in 18 appearances. He has struck out 18 in 18 innings with no walks. Pimentel is 2-0, 1.99 in seven starts at Double A. At 23, he remains a promising prospect.

DeJesus, Sands and Holt are fringe big leaguers. Their value is minimal at this point.

Financial cost to replace Papelbon (so far): A total of $22.79 million to pay Jenks, Bailey, Hanrahan and Sweeney over the last two seasons. The team saved roughly $1 million not paying Reddick in 2012 and Melancon this season.

Papelbon has made $24 million in that time. He is signed for two more years at $13 million each with a vesting option for 2016. Only time will tell whether that proves cost-effective for the Phillies.

Papelbon has been, well, Papelbon since he left Boston. He has appeared in 83 games and has a 2.28 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 83 innings. He is 43 of 47 in converting saves.

Player cost to replace Papelbon: The Red Sox have traded Reddick, Head, Alcantara, Melancon, Pimentel, Sands and DeJesus for the two closers.

At face value, none are franchise-altering losses. Reddick, after a star turn in the first half of last season, hit .215/.256/.391 after the break. Melancon is having a strong first few weeks for Pittsburgh. Based on his career, he may be better suited for the National League.

Head and Pimentel are at least somewhat intriguing prospects. Sands and DeJesus were spare parts.

Players gained: The Sox picked up two draft picks for Papelbon. They selected LHP Brian Johnson with the 31st overall pick in 2012 (that had been Philadelphia's) and RHP Pat Light with a compensatory pick, No. 37 overall.

Johnson has made nine starts in the minors in his career and is with Low Single A Greenville this season. (1-1, 2.18). Light is 1-4, 3.39 in 17 games. He is 1-2, 5.09 in five starts for Greenville. He has struck out 19 in 17.2 innings.

Holt is a potential bench player in the majors.

What's comes next: Bailey, ostensibly, can still become the closer and is arbitration eligible another year. But he's on the disabled list for now. Junichi Tazawa has the gig at the moment but has not been called on to save a game yet.

Rubby De La Rosa could emerge as the closer in time. There's at least some small chance that Daniel Bard could solve his woes and gain the job that he once seemed sure to get. Maybe Alex Wilson has the moxie to do the job.

One thing seems certain, the Red Sox will probably not be trading for another closer this winter.

Then again, what would the Phillies take for Papelbon?

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