photo © 2009 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)The Red Sox are not afraid to give money to players in their arbitration years. You can see their history with Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. There is a benefit for both the player and team to get it out of the way early. This can also identify the players the team has decided it’s not beneficial to sign early or just won’t take the contract.
When you see a player like Jacoby Ellsbury he has two potential factors for not signing. One is the team may not like to see him in center field long term and the other he is signed to agent Scott Boras. Boras is well known as a supporter of taking his prospects to free agency.
On the other hand you have closer Jonathan Papelbon who has been fairly vocal on his requests to make money that sets new levels for relievers. That along with questions about his effectiveness the past few seasons and the Red Sox front office had good reason to let Papelbon head to free agency after 2011.
This season though Papelbon has been his best in years. His K/9 is at 12.05, which is second only to 2007 when he had a 12.95. His BB/9 stands at an astounding 1.45, which is second only to his 1.04 in 2008. Put it all together and so far he has a K/BB of 8.33. There hasn’t been a clear reason for the improvement. His fastball is the same if not slower than last year by a small amount and he is using the same Fastball-Slider-Splitter makeup. There has been a small jump in his slider totals and that is primarily against right handers. Looking at his splits this has seemed to be a benefit.
He has only face 36 right handers, but using a large amount of sliders he has totalled a 6.00 K/BB with a career best 14.09 against righties. This is a small sample size issue and shouldn’t read to much, but nothing relievers due in any season is enough data to fully analyze it. This is why teams have such trouble evaluating them for signings.
So if Papelbon has made a change to more sliders against righties and it’s not something they learn to lay off of then he should again be considered one of the best closers in baseball. This puts him in select company and should be making big money next year.
The Red Sox can no longer claim poor when it comes to relievers. They have given 2/$12 million to Bobby Jenks and rumors flew this past offseason that they offered Mariano Rivera a 2/$30 million deal.
Papelbon may have the numbers right now to match Rivera with a similar WAR total over the last few years, but his arm issues in the past would concern me for anything over 3 years. Assuming he would take a three year deal at the age of 31 how much would he be worth over that time?
Assuming he maintains his dominance this year Papelbon should top 3.0 WAR this year and he will have averaged 2.5 WAR in every year since he became a closer. I know the Red Sox have better health information than us, but assuming they believe he would be healthy for the next 3 it would be fair to say he maintains a 2.5 WAR level as a closer*.
*There is some work that relievers do not decline at the 0.5 WAR per season after 30 years of age that is assumed with starters and postion players. The rate is more like 0.2 WAR per season, so being more accurate Papelbon would project more like 6.9 WAR based on this or 7.8 based on a 3.0 WAR this season.
Assuming current estimates that say a win is worth $5 million in the current market than Papelbon has a free agent value of about $34.5 million over a three year contract. That’s just not going to cut it after the team went to $15 million a season for Rivera. It’s going to take a $45 million offer for three to get him in here I think. It’s a bit of an overpay, but if he maintains the 3.0 War level of this year he could reach that value.
Before the year started I would have said the team wouldn’t have gone to that level, but with the question regarding Daniel Bard being able to control the walks and Bobby Jenks being a huge disappointment so far I am starting to wonder. It’s possible some team comes in and blows Papelbon away with silly money, but they could also convince him to stay in Boston with the 3/$45 deal.
Would you want Papelbon for that deal or perhaps even higher if needed?