Recent Red Sox news has included the acquisition of closer Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh in exchange for disappointing reliever Mark Melancon and three minor leaguers. Talk about the Sox bullpen also includes oft-injured Andrew Bailey as a possible setup man. What still bugs me after more than a year is how the team let Jonathan Papelbon go without making a better effort to re-sign him.
For most of his seven-year career in Boston, there were few better closers in the majors. Between 06 and 11, he averaged 36 saves. His ERA was as low as 1.85 in 09 and he averaged 2.34. His hits to innings pitched was remarkably consistent and he averaged less than 5 blown saves. He did have two famous ones, one in the 2009 ALCS against the Angels and the second in September 2011 against the Orioles to cap the team's historic collapse. These, however, should take nothing away from his successes throughout his Sox career.
For most of his time here, Pap was definitely an inspirational leader. Few fans have forgotten his dance performances to Dropkick Murphy songs in 07 or his leaping celebration with Jason Varitek after the final game of the World Series. Among his achievements were four AL all-star selections, a Sox single season record for saves as a rookie, the first pitcher in franchise history to have three 30-save seasons, the major league mark for most consecutive scoreless innings to start a postseason career, the team mark for total saves, and the fastest pitcher in major league history to reach 200 saves in a career. For all of his time in Boston, he had a presence on the mound that could not be measured in stats-the Look. It seemed to be saying "you know I'm going to get you out, you s.o.b."
Before Papelbon signed with the Phillies, Theo Epstein did not seem to make a concerted effort to re-sign him. Was it because Epstein was on his way out the door and didn't work hard at keeping Pap here? It is impossible to be sure. But at age 32 he seems destined for many more good years.
The fact that the men designated to replace Papelbon in 2012-Bailey, Melancon, and Alfredo Aceves-have been huge disappointments underscores an important fact. Failing to sign him was the Sox biggest blunder involving a reliever since Sparky Lyle was traded to the Yankees for Danny Cater. Hanrahan will have to be very, very good if the Sox want their fans to forget Jonathan Papelbon.