By Gordon Edes
The Boston Red Sox and closer Jonathan Papelbon came to terms Tuesday on a one-year deal worth $9.35 million, according to an industry source. The deal, which could escalate to $9.5 million with incentives, means the Red Sox and Papelbon will avoid arbitration for the second straight offseason.
The contract is the largest ever for a relief pitcher with four years or less in service time, topping Eric Gagne's $8 million in 2005. Seven big league closers have contracts for $10 million or more. Papelbon's deal puts him just under that number.
Since 2006, when Papelbon became the Boston closer, eight pitchers have had seasons of 35 saves or more, a strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio of 10 or more, and an ERA lower than 2.50. Papelbon has done it three times, and he would have been 4-for-4 except his K/IP ratio was 9.9 in 2006. This past season, while saving 38 regular-season games, he blew just three saves, and he has just 17 career blown saves, an 89 percent conversion rate.
"My whole thing is consistency,'' Papelbon said recently. "I'm not one of these guys with a sub-2 ERA one year and a high-3 the next. My whole thing in all of this is the environment you pitch in. Wouldn't you want a guy to pitch in Boston, New York and Philadelphia who you know has consistently had just three or four blown saves a year. That's a rarity in itself."
But there were a couple of worrisome issues in 2009: His walks tripled to 24 from eight the year before, a big reason his strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped to a career-worst 3.17 while his WHIP (walks plus hits per nine innings pitched) climbed to a career-high 1.47.
Papelbon said earlier this month that while he wasn't opposed to considering a multiyear deal with the Red Sox, he was willing to keep going year to year until he reaches free agency after the 2011 season.
"At the same time, I'm not afraid to show that, hey, I want to be with the Red Sox [in a multiyear deal]. I'd love to have that sense of security of being with a team and knowing, 'Hey, they want me, and I want them, let's have a happy marriage.'
"But what do I have to give up to be in that marriage? Understand, I'm in the prime of my career. Why would I give up something? I'd give up something if it's fair to both sides, but I want to do things for my fellow closers, just like [Mariano Rivera] paved the way for me. I want every closer out there, man, to get every penny they deserve.''
Papelbon was one of four Red Sox players (outfielder Jeremy Hermida and relievers Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez are the others) to file for arbitration. Tuesday was the deadline for the team and the players to exchange contract numbers. If an agreement is not reached, an arbitration hearing is held, and an arbitrator chooses one of the two figures submitted. The Red Sox have not had a player go to an arbitration hearing since Theo Epstein became general manager after the 2002 season.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
More Papelbon and Sox photos can be viewed at: http://www.photosbynanci.com/redsox.html