BOSTON While the Yankees Mariano Rivera has been the gold standard for closers on the field, Jonathan Papelbon has maintained -- throughout the series of one-year contracts he signed with the Red Sox -- that he wanted to set the contractual bar in free agency for those pitchers who can close out a game.
On Friday he did just that, agreeing to what CSN's Jim Salisbury reports is a four-year, 50 million contract (pending a physical, expected to be next week) that includes a fifth-year option that could push the total value of the deal to 60 million. The deal would represent a record for a guaranteed contract for a closer.
Papelbons departure opens a huge hole in the Sox bullpen. The question is, will the Sox turn to Daniel Bard as the closer, or shop in a tradefree-agent market that general manager Ben Cherington describes as sort of bountiful in regards to closers . . . relative to some years?
I think Daniel would embrace more responsibility, Cherington said. Daniels, I think, one of the most prepared and conscientious guys that we have in that clubhouse and hes proven hes an elite major-league pitcher . . . I think he would embrace more responsibility and hes ready for more responsibility.
"Were not ready to commit to any role for Daniel or anyone else in the bullpen. But hes certainly ready for more responsibility if given to him."
As for external options:
Weve talked to a bunch of free-agent closers and talked to other teams about guys that might be available in trade," said Cherington. "Not something that I would comment as far as specific names, but there are options out there this winter in the bullpen, including guys that have pitched in the ninth inning. So its an area that if we feel like we need to address, therell be options in the offseason to do that.
While Cherington would prefer to go into spring training with the closer determined, its not a requirement.
I do feel that its important to have a defined closer on Opening Day, Cherington said. I dont think its critical to have a defined closer in spring training, though it's probably preferable. And we may very well have a defined closer when we open camp. But theres been years where weve been really successful when we havent had that.
So I dont think we can lock ourselves into that because then . . . we sort of force ourselves to do it at all costs. So we just got to evaluate the options and, like I said, we know that were going to need to add pitching depth both in the bullpen and in the rotation. Theres different ways to do that. But there are available options out there.
And now, it appears, the Sox must begin to explore those options.