But will this clause be moot? How much does Papelbon really have left? The Phillies new stopper will be 31-years of age to start 2012 and has been rather lightly used, never working more than 69.1 innings in-season and fewer than 80 when you consider his post-season appearances. Papelbon’s skills are still excellent, producing his second highest strikeout rate of his career and his second lowest BB/9 of his career in 2011. His pitch selection and velocity also remain consistent. The one chink in the armor has been a disturbing trend of two consecutive seasons with a sub-70% left-on base rate. Considering how often Papelbon has entered games with no runners on base, this Is not particularly encouraging for a closer. A successful closer, because they enter the game without inheriting any runners most days typically have left-on-base rates around the 80% mark. Papelbon has produced high LOB% in the past and it is a number prone to a high degree of variance, so I would not be too concerned, but would also keep an eye on it too.
On the Red Sox side of things they are now without an established closer, but will not be making waves in the free agent bullpen market. Instead, Daniel Bard will get first crack at the job. The 26-year old has been solid over his three-seasons in the Majors and has actually become a more complete pitcher over that time reducing his walk rates in each successive season while still striking out more than a batter per innings while generating groundballs at high rates including 53% of the time in 2011. Despite all this I am not convinced he is the long-term solution. A fastball/slider pitcher, he is without a good weapon against lefties. Last year he posted a 12.0 K/9 against righties and a 6.6 against lefties. While the latter number is solid, it is a far cry from closer-level dominance. To contrast, Papelbon as a former starter does have the weapons including his split-fastball and produced strikeout rates in exceess of 10 per nine innings in 2011. So, in other words, if you are keeping Bard and expecting great things, get an insurance policy. Bobby Jenks is coming back from an injury-plagued year and may by default be the top setup man, but there is no guarantee he is or will remain healthy. From there you have a list of candidates like Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Michael Bowden, etc. In other words a group of pitchers without an established pattern for sustained success at the MLB level. Keep an eye on this situation. While the Red Sox may not throw money at a big-name closer, a lesser-named closer or multiple veteran setup men could be brought into town that could be factors in the closing situation.
Pirates Sign a Stop-Gap
In much smaller news, Rod Barajas was signed to a one-year deal by the Pirates. This is in theory a stop-gap maneuver for the Pirates with #1 overall draft pick Tony Sanchez possibly being promoted to Triple-A to start the season. Why “in theory"? Well the 22-year old Sanchez showed good plate discipline and contact-making skills in Double-A and receives the ball well, but hit a very unimpressive .241 .340 .318. I do not expect Sanchez to ever be much of a power threat, but he was at least expected to be an above average receiver with the ability to get on-base, hit low-single digits per season power, and hit for average. He is not a fast runner, so by hitting for average I mean .280s. To even be that now the young Buc has a lot to prove.
Barajas, meanwhile, brings what he always: bring: power and streakiness. The 36-year old has a career .238 .284 .430 line pretty much says it all. The right-hander has an aggressive all or nothing approach, but unlike many power hitters, he swings at everything rather than being truly selective. The power still makes him worth a $1 or two on draft day as a #2 catcher, but be sure to have plenty of other help in the batting average department and do not expect him to keep the starting job all season long or for that matter to remain with one team all season long either. What the move does mean, however, is that Michael McKenry, who deserves another extended look, will now likely not receive one, and will have to battle for the back-up job.
Thanks as always to the most excellent information available over at Cot’s Baseball Contracts.