Will he close or won’t he?
Two days after announcing that the 41-year-old Timlin will start the season on the disabled list, multiple team sources told ESPN’s Erin Andrews that the Red Sox have decided Jonathan Papelbon has regained the closer’s job.
Papelbon had 35 saves and a 0.92 ERA last season as a closer in his rookie year, but a shoulder problem detected late in the season led the team to decide he would move to the starting rotation in 2007.
Because of Papelbon’s shoulder issues, there will be restrictions on how he is used: He won’t throw when he is tired and he won’t appear in more than three games in a row, Andrews reports.
The news comes after manager Terry Francona announced that Timlin, who has been bothered by a strained oblique, will start the season on the DL.
What does it all mean? It means the guys the Sox hoped would replace Papelbon have all sucked. Hard.
Right-handers Joel Pineiro, Brendan Donnelly and Julian Tavarez just didn’t inspire the Sox with confidence. And really, how could the Sox go with a closer they didn’t trust when they had an all-star closer already on their roster?
Of course, if Papelbon’s arm falls off, everyone will second guess this decision. But then, people would have been screaming for Papelbon the second Pineiro or Tavarez blew a save. So I guess the Sox were damned either way.
UPDATE (Sarah Green)
Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe is reporting that the move was Papelbon’s idea—and not because his teammates have all sucked. (Hard.) Instead, he says, the impetus behind the move was Jonathan himself:
Papelbon, despite his public declarations of embracing the role of starter, said he hasn’t been able to sleep this spring because he wanted to close and finally told Francona of his desire on the field prior to Tuesday night’s exhibition game.
Papelbon said he told team captain Jason Varitek of his desire to close before speaking with the manager, and also consulted his family. His parents were in Clearwater to watch him pitch three innings today.
Both Papelbon and Francona insisted that Papelbon had done so well strengthening his shoulder that the medical reasons for making him a starter have been allayed. Francona did say he would have to closely monitor Papelbon’s workload to protect against overuse. He said last August, Papelbon threw more pitches than anyone in the big leagues.
Papelbon was insistent that he would not do something that would jeopardize his health just because the team didn’t have a clear-cut alternative as closer.
“To make a decision solely based on one year is kind of retarded, in my opinion,” he said. “This is something I’d like to do the rest of my career. Forget about starting. Go out (as a closer), chase records and hopefully do for the Red Sox what Mariano Rivera does for the Yankees.”
(As an aside, here’s an opposing view that puts Schilling as the master puppeteer behind the move. I’m not sure that this theory holds any water, but I submit it for your approval nonetheless.)
A couple of notes: Julian Tavarez has now been penciled in as the Sox’ fifth starter, with Tim Wakefield moving to the 4-spot. I fail to see what Mike Timlin’s early stint on the DL (as mentioned in Coley’s ESPN article) has to do with this decision—despite all the chatter around Timlin closing, I’m convinced that possibility was mere politeness on the part of the Boston front office. The Sox were really hoping Craig Hansen would be ready this year, which apparently he is not (after some mechanical adjustments, he is still inconsistent). Tavarez was actually, in my mind, the closest thing the Sox had to a closer after Paps, and Piniero was their insurance policy. Oh, and yeah, Brendan Donnelly. (Riiiight.) And I doubt Tavarez will stay in the rotation even most of the season. The Sox have plenty of other prospects to turn to, not least of which is lefty Jon Lester, still in need of some innings after coming back from cancer this winter. Some of the other back-of-the-rotation guys and minor-leaguers they’ve been hoarding? Kason Gabbard, David Pauley, Devern Hansack, and Kyle Snyder. Now, you probably haven’t heard of any of them. But each one of them appeared for the Sox last season and had at least one good outing. I’m not terribly worried, just as long as Matt Clement stays as far away from Kenmore Square as possible.
FWIW, the Washington Post story about it is rather hilarious:
CLEARWATER, Fla., March 22 — Even as the Boston Red Sox were conducting a very public search for a closer this spring, and even as Jonathan Papelbon was preparing himself to be the team’s fourth starter, both team and player were wrestling deep into the night with the same haunting thought: The Red Sox already possessed a knockout closer, and it was Papelbon himself, and until one side came clean to the other with the contents of their heart, neither would be able to sleep the sleep of the innocent.
That’s really Woodstein-type stuff.