The Red Sox in recent years have emphasized locking up their home-grown core players — among them Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Kevin Youkilis — to long-term contracts well before they approach free agency.
The notable exception has been closer Jonathan Papelbon, who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $9.35 million deal Tuesday that includes incentives.
Speaking to the hosts of The Sports Hub’s “Tanguay and Zolak” show this afternoon via telephone, the candid 29-year-old closer said he’s content not only with his salary and the way the process has worked, but also with how the Red Sox have handled his contract status.
“I think the biggest thing is making both sides happy,” Papelbon said. “That’s a really hard thing to do. I think finally before the deadline we came to an agreement for both sides that I think both sides are very happy in. That’s really all you can ask for, you know?”
He added: “As a four-year guy, that’s the area it fell into for us to want to get done, and it’s the area it fell into for the Red Sox to want to get done so we didn’t have to go to arbitration. I don’t think anybody really wants to do that [go to arbitration] on either end, but it’s part of the business and you have to understand that. I’m just happy we we’re able to see eye-to-eye and get the job done.”
Papelbon, who has a 1.84 ERA and 151 saves in his four full seasons as the Red Sox closer, has suggested in the past that he feels obligated to test free agency and raise the financial bar for closers. But his stance in that regard was somewhat softened today
“So far we haven’t been able to iron out a long-term deal and it hasn’t worked out, but that’s not to say that we haven’t tried,” Papelbon said. ”We’ve tried to look at the whole spectrum of the equation . . . It just hasn’t worked out. It’s a thing that takes two to work out, and it hasn’t, and it’s not that big of a deal.”
The Red Sox have been appropriately cautious with Papelbon since he suffered a subluxation in his right shoulder late in the 2006 season — his career-high in innings is 68.1 set in the 2008 season. But he made it clear that he is not at all concerned that he might suffer a significant injury before he is eligible to test free agency after the 2011 season. When asked how long he can continue to pitch at such a high level, he replied without hesitation:
“As long as I want,” he said. ”As long as I stay dedicated to my shoulder program, as long as I stay dedicated to keeping my body healthy, as long as you want. It’s gotten better and better for me every year, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger, and that’s the key . . . I’ve learned when to press the gas pedal and let up on it, and that’s the biggest key, and that’s what you learn as you get more years in.”
Papelbon acknowledged that it’s a double-edged sword, that the ballclub also takes some degree of risk when it signs a young player to a long-term deal.
“Injuries happen in this game, and that’s the issue for every athlete no matter what sport you’re in,” Papelbon said. ”Do you want to lock up a guy — no matter whether it’s Pedroia, Lester, Youkilis, or anybody in any other spot — it’s a gamble. The team has to trust that he’ll keep that body healthy and hopefully make it through the long term.”
He said he does hope to pitch his entire career with the Red Sox, but recognizes that there are other conditions or circumstances that may prevent that.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think of it a whole, whole lot. I would love to finish my career with the Red Sox, and I think everybody pretty much knows that,” Papelbon said. “But that’s a very hard thing to do in this day and age and the way the game is now, and I have to understand that as well. Hopefully, it works out to where I can stay here for a while and win World Series and break records in a Red Sox uniform, like my buddy Mo [Rivera] in pinstripes.”
After entering last postseason having not allowed a run in 25 playoff innings in his career, he gave up a 6-4 lead in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS, suffering a stunning loss as the Angels swept the Red Sox.
Red Sox fans probably require no reminder of how the 2009 season ended. But Papelbon said he is using the reminder as daily motivation.
“When I’m in the gym and saying, ‘God, I’ve got one more set to do,’ and man, I’m tired, and I look up and that game is on one of the three TVs in my gym, and I look at that tape,” he said. ”I say, ‘Rewind that, rewind that,’ every time I’m in there. It gives me that little edge that digs down in my bones and pushes me. It does. It pushes me.”