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Why it’s time to trade Jonathan Papelbon

11.17.10 at 8:19 pm ET

Let the games, and rumors, begin.

The general managers’ meetings are under way down in Orlando and things are starting to heat up. When it comes to your Boston Red Sox, be ready to hear how they are in on every major free agent out there. Part of it may be due diligence and part of it may be sincere interest. We will probably never know which it is, but one thing that we do know is that the Sox have holes that need to be filled, and because of their roster flexibility, there isn’t a position on the field other than second base where they can’t improve.

Theo Epstein already has come out and said that improving the Sox bullpen will be one of the priorities this offseason. We all know that they need some help in the ‘pen, but could addition by subtraction be the answer?

I think it’s time to trade Jonathan Papelbon. Yes, I have had a change in heart. I preached all season long that Pap wasn’t going anywhere and that the Sox needed to add arms, not lose them. But, going into his last year of arbitration before he hits free agency following the 2011 season, Papelbon will cost the Sox close to $12 million in 2011.

As long as Pap is wearing a Red Sox uniform, he is indeed the closer of this team. Which leads us to the real issue. Jonathan Papelbon is still a very good closer when you compare him to others around the league, but he is no longer an “elite” closer. All you have to do is look at the last couple of years. His walks per nine innings are up. His hits per nine innings are up. There is just too much inconsistency in his game these days whether it is due to his mechanics or just the wear and tear given the position he plays.

One of the main reasons why I didn’t feel that the Sox should trade Pap this offseason was because I didn’t feel that there would be much of a market for him. I don’t think that has changed. He is due an awful lot of money next year, and given his desire to test out free agency following 2011, any team that would entertain acquiring Pap may only have his services for one year.

If the Sox were to find a match, I don’t see them getting anything more than a few prospects as well as possibly having to eat some of Pap’s salary. I know that doesn’t sound like a good deal, but if the Sox were to get a couple of prospects that, say … Jed Hoyer out in San Diego likes as well … it may become extremely beneficial in their pursuit of Adrian Gonzalez in the future.

OK, so why the change of heart? Two reasons.

No. 1. Have you seen how many quality relievers are available in this free agent class? If it’s lefties you’re looking for, you can start with Scott Downs, but it doesn’t end there. How about names like Brian Fuentes, Pedro Feliciano, Randy Choate or Arthur Rhodes, to name a few. Oh, you’d rather have a quality righty coming out of the ‘pen? OK. How would you feel about Grant Balfour, Matt Guerrier, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, Kevin Gregg or Frank Francisco. I know I’d feel pretty good if the Sox could get a couple of those guys.

No. 2. In order to sign a couple of pitchers from that list, it’s going to cost you. It sounds like Theo Epstein has already earmarked money for at least one reliever in free agency. The Sox can take the $10 million or so that they will be saving by dealing Pap (even if they pick up some of his contract) and sign a couple more of those guys.

My point? It’s time to hand the job over to Daniel Bard. There couldn’t be a better time. With the quality in this year’s free agent class, the Sox can surround their young closer with three veteran relievers. I think that we’ve all seen enough from Bard to think that he is more than capable of getting the job done.

It will soon be decision time for the Sox on Jonathan Papelbon. Do they trade him? Do they offer him arbitration? Do they let him go? The last one seems extremely unlikely, but ask yourself this: If you are starting to lose confidence in your closer, why hand over close to $12 million and put yourself through six months of second guessing about who to bring in in the ninth?

I just told you what I think they should do. Now, I’ll tell you what they are probably going to do: They’ll bring back Pap and I’ll be asked the same question I did all last year.

“Why don’t they just let Baaaaahd close?”

Good question!!!

Read More: adrian gonzalez, arthur rhodes, brian fuentes, Daniel Bard
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