Papelbon fine with one-year deal
Sox closer pleased with contract, motivated by playoff loss
BOSTON -- There was no arbitration hearing, but no long-term deal either. Both things were fine with Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who seems perfectly content with the one-year, $9.35 million deal he signed earlier this week.
During a Thursday afternoon guest appearance spot on Boston FM radio station 98.5 the Sports Hub, Papelbon spoke about his new deal and a variety of other topics as he closes in on the start of his fifth full season with the Sox.
"I think the biggest thing in these kind of situations is making both sides happy," Papelbon said on the mid-day show hosted by Gary Tanguay and Scott Zolak. "As you well know, that's a really hard thing to do. I think finally before the deadline, we came to an agreement on both sides, and I think both sides are very happy. That's really all you can ask for, you know?"
Though his accomplishments speak for themselves -- Papelbon has been an All-Star in his first four seasons -- the right-hander expressed no resentment that he's yet to sign a long-term deal like fellow homegrown teammates Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Kevin Youkilis.
"There's been two years of an agreement between each other for one-year deals that have been great on both ends," said Papelbon. "That's what's been working, and so far we haven't been able to iron out a long-term deal, and it hasn't worked out. That's not to say that we haven't tried. We've tried to really look at all -- the whole spectrum of the equation and say, 'Can we do a long-term deal? Can we not?' We really tried, and it just kind of worked out [this way]. It's a thing where it takes two to make it work and it hasn't, and it's really not that big of a deal."
Though Papelbon has said several times in the past that he's fine going year-to-year with his contract until he gets to free agency, he did make it clear Thursday that he'd like to keep that Red Sox uniform on for a long time.
"To be honest with you, I don't think about it a whole, whole lot," said Papelbon. "Deep down in my heart, I would love to finish my career as a Red Sox. And I think everybody pretty much knows that, but that's a very, very hard thing to do in this day and age. And the way the game is now, I have to understand that as well. Hopefully it works out to where I can stay here for a while and win World Series and break records in a Red Sox uniform like my buddy Mo [Mariano Rivera] has done over there in [Yankees] pinstripes."
Already, Papelbon is Boston's all-time saves leader with 169. The role of closer can be a volatile one, subject to major injuries and/or drastic drop-offs in performance. But Papelbon sounded more than confident that he could be the exception in that regard, rather than the rule.
Papelbon suffered a subluxation of his throwing shoulder during the final month of his rookie season. But he has stuck religiously to a shoulder strengthening program since then and didn't spend any time on the disabled list the past three years. How long can he stay healthy?
"As long as I want," Papelbon told 98.5. "As long as I stay dedicated in my shoulder program and as long as I stay dedicated in keeping my body healthy. It's as long as you want. It's gotten better and better for me every year. I've gotten stronger and stronger. I think that's a key, and every year [manager Terry Francona] has learned how to use me better and better, and I've learned how to approach the gas pedal and let up on it. I think that's the biggest key, and I think that's what you learn as you get more years underneath your belt."
The one thing that will be very different for Papelbon entering 2010 is that he will come in with a chip on his shoulder. He is coming off the first truly devastating blown save of his career, the one that ended Boston's 2009 season in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Angels. Consider that before that glaring blemish, Papelbon had never given up a run in the postseason, a stretch of 26 innings.
Papelbon made it clear that there was no exaggeration to his recent comments in an article with ESPNBoston.com that he plays the video of that fateful ninth inning as motivation during his winter workouts. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who sat in with Tanguay and Zolak during Thursday's interview, asked Papelbon why he would subject himself to something so painful.
"Man, I'm a different cat, you should know that by now, Dan. That's just something that motivates me, man," Papelbon said. "That was something that was very dear to me and something that I prized and cherished a lot was the postseason scoreless run that I went on. Obviously, that came to an end this postseason.
"That's something that look, when I'm in the gym and I'm sitting there saying, 'God, I've got one more set to do,' or 'Man, I'm tired', and I look up and that game is on one of the three TVs in my gym and I look at that little tape that keeps rewinding and rewinding the whole time I'm in there, it gives me that little [motivation] -- that little edge that makes me dig down in my bones and pushes me. It does, it pushes me."
There are always lessons to be learned in failure, and Papelbon hinted that he will try to become less fastball-happy in 2010. During the ALDS meltdown against the Angels, every pitch Papelbon threw during that ninth inning was a fastball.
"Another thing will be definitely to start incorporating more offspeed [pitches] a little bit with my split and my slider and not falling in love with my heater so much, which everyone knows I can do," Papelbon said. "It's hard not to. Let me tell you something ... every pitcher, I don't care who you are, when they throw 95-plus, they want to blow hitters away with their heater. It's a hard thing to do, to understand that, 'OK, now I might need to go to something else.' I'm going to sit back a little bit in Spring Training and try to incorporate that a little bit more."
After spending much of his winter being glued to the Disney Channel with his young children, Papelbon has at last caught up on the various moves made this winter by general manager Theo Epstein. He is looking forward to getting back to work with what should be another strong Red Sox team.
"If you look at our team, no matter what, we have the pieces to make the puzzle work and to put the puzzle together," Papelbon said. "At the end of the equation, that's really all that matters. Do you have the pieces to the puzzle? I believe that we do.
"Early on in this offseason -- and I'm being dead honest with you -- with the kid and everything running around my house, my TV stays on the Disney Channel most of the time, so I didn't pay too much attention.
"Now, I've kind of started paying more attention as Spring Training gets a little closer and knowing what to expect. I can't wait to get out there and see the guys -- see the new guys, see the old guys and see Tito, and get this ball rolling."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.