Papelbon talks about why the Sox might want to keep him around.
posted at 5/31/2011 9:02 AM EDT
by Rob Bradford/WEEIJonathan Papelbon is making a pretty good case.
Monday, he attempted to clarify it further.
"I'm truly speaking from my heart. I'm not sitting here saying something that they might read that makes them want to keep me. This has nothing to do with … I'm going to stay or go. I'm going to honestly go out there and play the way Cinco knows how to play," said the Red Sox closer. "All I can do is be Jonathan Papelbon to my wife and my family and the guys in this clubhouse, and Cinco Ocho as soon as I walk across the white line. That's enough on my plate for right now."
What's on Papelbon's plate is closing out games, which he has done pretty well thus far this season. He has converted 10 off 11 save opportunities, struck out 31 and walked just three. Among baseball's club of closers, he has re-established himself as one of the best.
All of it is why Papelbon could stand in front of his locker prior to the Red Sox' series-opener against the White Sox and confidently explain how he viewed his lot in life as he marches through his first-ever free agent season.
"This role is so much different than so many other roles. There's a lot more to it than just the X's and O's, being a closer. So much more than just going on the mound and throwing," he said. "I've had six years of doing this under my belt. And I mean doing it in this atmosphere. It's more of a mental grind and it takes more mental toughness to be able to put up with everything that comes with the territory of closing in Boston, and playing in New York 17 times a year.
"I think that in my situation … In the last six years the city of Boston has seen nobody but me close. You start getting to that point of expectations, and what people expect."
There is a point to be made.
The market for closers has always muddied the waters when trying to envision Papelbon returning to the Red Sox following the 2011 season. Yet, as we sit here, he has managed to position himself to make a run at a long-term deal, the kind of which that is becomingly increasingly rare among game-ending relievers.
When listening to Papelbon explain his own value to the organization, you start to wonder.
There has been no closer in Red Sox history who has been able to not only survive in the role for six seasons, but produce at an All-Star level for the majority of their tenure in Boston, as has been the case with Papelbon. And since Papelbon took over the closers role in '06, only Francisco Rodriguez has more saves. During the stretch he has tootled a 2.21 ERA with an opponents batting average against of .200.
And, as the closer is quick to point out, the numbers have been garnered in one of baseball's most unique environments.
"If I stay the appreciation factor will increase year by year, but if I go it will be a situation where the fans -- strictly the fans -- will realize what they had and what they would be missing," he said. "My dad always told me, if it ain't broke don't fix it. Sometimes people want to try and fix things that aren't broken, and sometimes they don't."
Papelbon makes it clear: His first hope is that the Red Sox don't feel like his corner of the roster needs to be fixed.
"I said this for years, I would like to stay here and break every record I possibly can, and win as many championships as I can in this uniform because this is the organization I came up with," he said. "I've done great things, and I've done some stupid things since I've been here. I've been the role model son of this organization, and I've been the red-headed step-child."
But, in the next breath, Papelbon reminds himself of baseball's reality, one which he surfaces when asked if he would find it difficult to envision himself in another uniform.
"No, it's not. That's something I've told my self from Day 1, that I've got to do what's best for me and my family. I've got to do what will make me successful," he said. "It's not about the money, it's about going somewhere day in and day out and wanting to be there. That's what it all boils down to. Going to a job every day I want to go to. I've really kept that in perspective.
"You're going to go through your ups and downs, but at the end of the day when you look at the last six years it does make things interesting. It's all about what they may be looking for in the future, and if I'm in that equation, I'm in it, and if I'm not, I'm not."
The fastball command is there. The split is back. The slider is a viable weapon. And saves are being made.
Papelbon is making the kind of case some might have forgotten could be made.
"Sometimes if you stick to the plan, it falls the way you want to," he said. "You're going to have ups and downs, and have to grind it out. Nothing is going to fall in your lap."