In Mild Upset, Red Sox, Jonathan Papelbon Avoid Arbitration Hearing

The Red Sox have locked up two of their homegrown stars -- Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia -- to long-term deals this winter. Teammate Jonathan Papelbon will not follow suit.

Just this morning, Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald reported that it was likely Papelbon would become the first player in Theo Epstein's tenure as Red Sox general manager to have his arbitration case heard. As it turns out, Boston was able to come to an agreement with its All-Star closer before it got to that point, reportedly signing him to a one-year, $6.25 million deal.

This has to be considered a small victory for the Sox, especially considering Papelbon's expressed desire to set a new benchmark for closers and the acrimony that comes with any arbitration hearing.

But, in my eyes at least, it's also a win since Papelbon probably would have gotten an even more sizable contract in a hearing.

McAdam speculated that Papelbon would have asked for more than $7.5 million in arbitration. My question is, if you're Epstein and the Red Sox, how do you even begin to construct a case that he isn't worth at least that much?

Fellow first-time arbitration-eligible closer Bobby Jenksreceived a one-year, $5.6 million deal Monday. As good as Jenks has been, Papelbon has been on another planet. His career 1.84 ERA is more than a full run lower than Jenks' 3.09. He strikes out more than 10.5 hitters per nine innings, rarely walks anyone (53 free passes in 230 innings) and has never allowed a run in 16 postseason appearances.

The only real blemish on his record is a month-long stint on the disabled list at the end of the 2006 season. The Red Sox have babied him in a few instances since then, but he's actually been extremely durable since suffering shoulder subluxation.

He's made 15 appearances of more than one inning in the last two years. By comparison, the great Mariano Rivera has made 26. But he's, well, Mariano. Joe Nathan, the other elite closer in the American League right now, has made only 10 appearances of more than one inning.

There just aren't many holes in Papelbon's game. With the closer gunning for big payday after big payday, the Red Sox should be quite pleased that they've got Papelbon under their control this season at a reasonable price. They might not be so lucky in the coming seasons.

In Mild Upset, Red Sox, Jonathan Papelbon Avoid Arbitration Hearing originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Tue, 20 Jan 2009 18:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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