Given Jonathan Papelbon’s recent hints about starting in 2007, there’s a lot of hubbub about who might close for the Red Sox next season.
Let me preface this by saying that I agree with Baseball Prospectus’s Nate Silver: Papelbon should remain a closer. His utter dominance in relief, the taxing nature of his splitter, the open question about his ability to throw 200 innings. Why risk it? As Silver says, "A great closer is as valuable as all but the very best starters, once we properly account for the effects of leverage."
But say the Red Sox do use Papelbon as a starter in 2007 (I’m not anywhere near convinced they will). Who’s going to pitch the ninth inning in Boston? It’s really not their style to pursue any of these guys. Only Eric Gagne has the potential to be elite, so the Boston papers are throwing his name around. But let’s not forget that Gagne has thrown all of 15.3 innings over the last two seasons. He’s a very risky signing, especially if he would require an inflated offer to leave L.A.
The better solution, in my mind, is to try to trade for Brad Lidge. Lidge is still healthy and it would be a buy low situation. It wouldn’t be the first time the Red Sox have looked at acquiring him. Lidge is still racking up the strikeouts, though his control has slipped to a dangerous level. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2008 season.
Whether or not the Red Sox target Lidge, relying on one of the available free agent closers doesn’t seem like their style. They gave Keith Foulke a big contract after 2003, but Foulke was one of the game’s dominant closers at the time. There’s no similar free agent option this year. How about a creative solution: give the job to a starter? Matt Clement, Adam Eaton, Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Kerry Wood, or Randy Wolf could surprise as a closer if one of them is willing to give it a shot.