A reunion between the playoff-contending Red Sox and their former closer, free agent Jonathan Papelbon, doesn’t appear to be in the offing, according to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. Papelbon, whom the Nationals released last Saturday, hasn’t pitched in two-plus weeks (Aug. 6) and there’s concern within the Boston organization that he won’t have enough time to prepare for the rest of the season in the event they do pick him up. The Red Sox believe Papelbon would need at least a week-long tuneup in the minors if they were to sign him.
General manager Mike Hazen said earlier this week that the club was “just kind of in a wait-and-see” situation with Papelbon, whom manager John Farrell has spoken with since he hit the open market. Farrell also acknowledged then that team brass broached the idea of adding Papelbon.
“We’ve talked about it, there’s some real strong points to ’Pap’ that could be an addition here,” he said.
There wouldn’t be much financial risk in adding Papelbon, who would cost the Red Sox the prorated portion of the league minimum. But the 35-year-old is only in position to sign for a cheap sum because his effectiveness has dwindled, which caused the playoff-bound Nationals to drop him. In his final five appearances with the Nats, Papelbon’s ERA rose from 2.56 to 4.37 as he yielded nine runs in 3 1/3 innings. That’s a far cry from the Papelbon who pitched for the Red Sox from 2005-11. During that seven-year period, the 2003 fourth-round pick threw 429 1/3 frames and registered a 2.33 ERA, 10.67 K/9 and 2.41 BB/9. He also helped Boston to a World Series title in 2007 and converted a franchise-record 219 regular-season saves in 248 attempts – good for a sterling 88-plus percent success rate. However, Papelbon’s fastball velocity, strikeout and walk rates, and ground-ball percentage have all declined significantly since then.
Regardless of whether they bring back Papelbon, the Red Sox will have some questions at the back end of their bullpen. To name a trio of prominent ones, Junichi Tazawa has allowed seven earned runs over his past four appearances (two innings); July acquisition Fernando Abad hasn’t yet carried his success from Minnesota to Boston; and 41-year-old Koji Uehara hasn’t pitched since July 19 because of a pectoral strain. Even before landing on the disabled list, Uehara’s ERA was a career-worst 4.50 across 36 innings, during which he yielded eight home runs and posted a personal-low 19 percent ground-ball rate. Moreover, Uehara excelled at generating infield pop-ups in previous years, but that figure has dropped from 16.1 percent in 2015 to 8.2 percent this season.
As Mastrodonato notes, though, the Red Sox have potential in-house solutions in a pair of right-handers, Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly, and lefty Brian Johnson. Hembree is currently in the club’s bullpen, while Kelly and Johnson are candidates to come up when rosters expand in September.