Jonathan Papelbon is the greatest closer in Boston Red Sox history and they still need him. Too bad he pitches for Philadelphia because the Phillies can’t find enough for him to do.
By finding themselves with so few save situations the Phillies are making their once-upon-a-time high-profile free agent signing irrelevant. Papelbon, who as of Sunday had 270 career saves and seemed likely to steadily keep moving past 300, the first-level of milestone for relievers, is becoming a forgotten man.
And it’s not because he’s playing poorly. Papelbon is pitching just as effectively as always. Effectiveness for Papelbon is defined as being very, very good. He is a five-time All-Star and the 6-foot-4, 225-pound thrower has had impeccable control and impressive heat as he has blown away hitters with regularity over his nine-year career.
This season the Phillies are just kind of muddling along. Not so very long ago they had a solid hot streak going and that included going into Boston and unleashing Papelbon on his old Red Sox teammates for the first time since he jumped to the National League for a four-year, $50 million contract. Papelbon, a prominent and popular member of Boston’s 2007 World Series championship team, was welcomed back with very respectable enthusiasm by Fenway Park fans.
Some of them probably still get on You Tube periodically to watch Papelbon celebrate on the field doing a jig to Michael Flatley music following one of the high points of the Sox’s second championship run of the 2000s.
Better he was still inhabiting the BoSox bullpen. Papelbon, 32, became a free agent after the 2011 season and the Phillies made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. At the time it seemed as if he was the missing piece needed for Philadelphia to pluck another World Series crown. Instead, the Phillies fell apart and became the biggest disappointment in the NL. Coincidentally, the Red Sox did, too.
Boston has been searching for a new closer from the moment Papelbon left. They picked up Mark Melancon and he was horrible for them. Then they traded him to the Pirates in a deal for Joel Hanrahan, an All-Star, who is out for the season. The Red Sox also picked up Andrew Bailey last year and he got injured. Right now Bailey is the Boston closer, but doesn’t appear to have the full faith of management. In-between Alfredo Aceves gathered 25 saves last season, but had a 5.36 ERA. This year he has appeared in eight games.
Last season, Papelbon’s first in Philadelphia, he collected 38 saves and finished with a fine 2.44 earned run average. This year, as the season approaches the halfway mark, he is o-0 with 13 saves in 24 games. Papelbon’s ERA is a superb 1.46. The problem is that the Phillies just aren’t finding themselves in very many save situations. Papelbon could probably write the great American novel in his free time sitting around the bullpen.
Papelbon can’t save games that are long lost or blowouts the other way. There is no place for him on the field unless circumstances invite him in. The Phillies do not look like contenders. Maybe they will finish over .500 and maybe they won’t get back over .500. The Red Sox may not win the American League East Division, but at the moment they are leading it, and seem to have the goods to qualify for the playoffs.
The irony is that if the Red Sox had Papelbon back anchoring the bullpen they would have a much better chance to capture the division and ensure a spot in the playoffs.