Adam Kilgore of The Boston Globe reports that the Red Sox are prepared to lean on Jonathan Papelbon the rest of the way. The story says that Paps is rested, having been handled to ensure maximum strength for the remaining month-plus of the season, and then what will hopefully be a 3-4 week run in October. That’s the short-term picture. The bigger picture is that the Sox will likely have to lean on Papelbon hard in contract negotiations, as the prospect of him staying in Fenway when he becomes eligible for free agency is in doubt.
Paps has said he’s going to the highest bidder when his time comes. Theo Epstein never overpays a player, and the reality is that closers are a very poor investment when it comes to long-term contracts. Ask the Blue Jays how well the $42 million they threw at B.J. Ryan worked out. And the Mets opened the vault for Billy Wagner, who’s now in a Sox uniform as a setup guy. Bullpen work is volatile by nature and not the sort of stable investment Theo will want to make when it comes to big money. Not only do closers tend to blaze and fade, but they also seem to develop out of nowhere. Papelbon himself is a prime example, as he seemed to just burst on the scene as the replacement to Keith Foulke in 2006.
On the other side of the coin, someone will almost surely offer Papelbon whatever money he’s looking for. Some team will always be desperate and given his extraordinary stuff and his youth, the bidders will be there. Hence, the increased interest in the development of Daniel Bard. The flamethrowing rookie has been getting increasing amounts of action in truly consequential spots—more so than Manny Delcarmen as of late, and the inevitable speculation is that Bard is being prepared to assume the closers’ role. Most likely this would take place upon any Papelbon free agent departure, but if he (Bard) comes along quicker, there’s the longshot possibility that Paps could become trade bait.
Papelbon is a popular player and a favorite with me too, so it’s not a pleasant subject to think about. But it gets worse with this sobering thought—about the time he’s set for free agency, Mariano Rivera should be ready to retire. And if money is the consideration that Paps is looking at, what’s to stop him from spending the prime of his career in Pinstripes?
Evaluation of the Redskin roster continues today with the secondary. The tragic death of Sean Taylor has taken its toll on this unit. It’s still a unit I like, but it lacks the big-play capability Taylor brought. On the corners we have Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall. Rogers is a good cover guy, but his propensity to drop interceptions keeps him from being truly great. A knee injury has also held him back. Hall is reasonably decent on the other side. At safety I love LaRon Landry playing centerfield. Although here we have a classic case of a player who was better at strong safety, when Taylor was there to roam the middle. Strong safety is shared by Chris Horton and Reed Doughty and needs improvement.
As we do brief look-ins on the rest of the world outside Washington and the NFC East, I’ve only got two column spots to get through the AFC. Rather than try and cover half the league each day, I’m going to take today and zero in on the top two teams—the Steelers & Patriots. One team is the defending champ. The other carries with the aura of “team to beat” by virtue of Tom Brady’s return. Both organizations are impeccably run. And the rest of the AFC will be chasing both of them.
The Steelers have the reputation of being a team that relies on defense and the running game, but that’s only half-true. The defense is the best in the league, led by linebacker James Farrior. But the running attack was actually the worst of any previous Steeler playoff team, though it still cleared 100 ypg. The offense is mostly reliant on Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward.
New England showed how complete a team they really were last season, winning 11 games without Brady. Only a tough break on tiebreakers kept them from the postseason, as they tied both the Dolphins for the AFC East and the Ravens for the last wild-card. With the MVP quarterback back, the offense should be a machine. The concern has to be the defense getting a little long in the tooth, and the secondary, which has suffered attrition through free agency. The offense and Belichick’s coaching are enough to put them back in the playoffs and Super Bowl contention, but they need fresh legs on defense to step up if they are to hoist another trophy.