Wednesday night, Jonathan Papelbon blew only his second save of the season. And yet, much of Red Sox Nation is in an uproar.
Maybe it's because, despite this being only Papelbon's second blown save, the closer has been far from dominant, with an inflated ERA and walk rate, and dropping strikeout rates. Maybe it's because the problem is so easilly diagnosable -- an over-reliance on fastballs the past few years that has allowed his secondary offerings to degrade to the point where they're no longer keeping the heater afloat. Maybe it's because, when the going gets rough, fans (justifiably) tend to bail first on the brash, cocky types like Papelbon.
Let's face it: for as much as we love watching Paps' rock-star entrance to the Dropkick Murphys' now-iconic "Shipping up to Boston," and the 2007 ALCS riverdancing, the guy hasn't done a lot to endear himself to fans outside of closing out games. Papelbon has always let it be known that he's looking for the big payday at the end of the rainbow. Extensions were always talked about, never reached, and as a result many have come to terms that Mercenary Papelbon is not long for Boston. Maybe he's even headed to New York—he's made some unfortunate overtures to that effect in the past. When combined with last year's talks of a changed delivery meant to conserve his arm, well, you can probably remember how well that went over.
But now he's not really producing on the mound, either. Just another member of a generally disappointing bullpen—all save Daniel Bard, who not only brings the off-speed stuff with two types of slider and an intriguingly good changeup of late, but also has yet to talk about how he wants to be the highest paid closer ever. Sure, he has more blown saves, but he also strikes out a ton of guys, walks fewer, gives up fewer runs, and is undeniably the future of this team's bullpen.
With the results that Bard has been getting, there's been a lot of talk of making him the closer. On the one hand, this would put our best guy in what is conventionally the most important role, and might serve as a wake-up call to Papelbon that he can't just coast to 2012. On the other hand, it could serve to set off the arrogant Papelbon, destroying what value he might have to the team in either a setup role or in a trade, and make it less likely that Tito brings in Bard when actually needed (say, bases loaded one out in the seventh instead of a clean inning in the ninth).
Or maybe they should just trade Papelbon straight up. Find some contender willing to trade prospects for a closer, and then flip them for a setup man who gets results even if he doesn't come with a marquee name.
So what say you, Red Sox Nation? What do we do with Papelbon?