MLB.com's Ian Browne doesn't think Jonathan Papelbon's final appearance with the Red Sox will be his meltdown in Game 3 of the ALDS. A reader inquired in Browne's mailbag column whether Papelbon could be jettisoned, with Daniel Bard getting a shot at closing duties.
Browne notes that Papelbon has been an All Star during each of his four years as closer, and says of Boston, "I think the Red Sox would much rather work with Papelbon to try to get him back to his 2006-08 form than trade him away."
There are some reasons to think the Red Sox would be well-advised to deal Papelbon if the price is right. Later in the same mailbag, Browne noted that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein shares the commonly-held belief that Boston's best prospects are 2-3 years away. A Papelbon deal for high-level prospects could allow the Red Sox to restock the upper tier of their farm system, with Bard or Billy Wagner (whom the Sox can offer arbitration to) closing in 2010.
Papelbon also had some warning signs in his 2009 statistical line. While his ERA actually dropped from 2008's 2.34 to 1.85 in 2009, that is deceptive. Papelbon's walk rate more than tripled, from 1.0 to 3.2 walks per nine innings. His Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) rose more than a run, from 2.01 to 3.05. He'll be expensive in arbitration this winter, and will hit free agency in his early 30s (he turns 29 on November 23).
In his defense, he's Jonathan Papelbon. Few closers have been better, even during his "down year" in 2009.
So what should the Red Sox do? What should it take to pry Papelbon loose from Boston?