When Jonathan Papelbon walked away from the Red Sox after the 2011 season, I felt some anger, both at the team and Pap himself. The Sox had really made no effort to sign him and he had been very quick to take his $63 million and run to the Phillies.
Though Papelbon, like the team, had folded in September, he had been close to a lights-out reliever in his 6-plus years in Boston. He had been remarkably consistent, averaging 36 saves between 06 and 11, he was a four-time all-star selection and accumulated a number of Sox relief records.
However, an item in last Sunday's Nick Cafardo Baseball column makes me feel a slight pang of sorrow for the tough right hander. Obviously cleaning house, the Phillies have not been able to find a taker for Pap, largely because his velocity had dropped from 96 in his Boston days to 91-92 last season.. Cafardo quotes an American League scout: "He didn't look like the same guy. Whether that was physical or he just didn't have the adrenaline flowing with a bad team, I don't know."
Known as a fierce competitor with his in-your-face look on the mound in his Sox years, Papelbon went to a Phils team that was on the downside. After winning five consecutive NL East titles from 07 to 11, they faded to 81-81 in 2012 and a fourth-place 73-89 in 2013. For a hurler who had played on 90-plus winners at Fenway in four of his six years, it must have been a big disappointment. According to rumors, Pap was saying things like "I didn't come here for this." His stats, while not terrible, do show a drop in 13. For example, his 29 saves, 61 innings pitched, and 57 strikeouts were the lowest of his career. His hits to innings pitched ratio also showed a significant drop.
There is no way of knowing how Pap's career would have gone had he stayed here. It is possible that at age 33, his skills have begun to diminish. After a year without a real closer, his former team looks in great shape with sudden hero Koji Uehara, now backed up by Edward Mujica. During the Sox golden year of 2013, Papelbon's exploits have begun to fade from memory.
Perhaps a new team will revive the righty's career. But it is likely that a part of him wishes he could have been celebrating at Fenway as the Sox mobbed Uehara on that October night.