Commentary

Jonathan Papelbon learns from best

On and off the field, Red Sox closer follows Mariano Rivera's path

Updated: February 17, 2010, 1:27 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jonathan Papelbon makes no secret of how much he admires Mariano Rivera's track record on the mound. It may be a coincidence, but he also appears to have adopted a strategy similar to Rivera's when it comes to negotiating contracts.

"He's got five [World Series] rings," Papelbon said of the Yankees' closer. "That speaks for itself. Everybody else that's a closer out there is pretty much chasing him."

So far, Papelbon has one ring to his name. His record streak of 26 scoreless postseason innings came to a shocking end in October when the Angels scored five times with Papelbon on the mound in the last two innings to eliminate the Red Sox in the American League division playoffs.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Papelbon
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireJonathan Papelbon says that both sides are happy with the $9.35 million one-year contract he signed in the offseason.

Rivera, meanwhile, earned his fifth Series ring, first since 2000, when the Yankees beat the Phillies in the World Series last October. Matching Rivera's feat will be no easy task, for Papelbon or any other closer.

But when you compare the earnings curve of the Yankees' icon and the Red Sox All-Star, there are definite parallels, especially in the way both have worked on one-year deals in the early years of their careers.

Papelbon came close to signing a two-year deal last winter, the first time he was eligible for salary arbitration, but the Red Sox fell short of meeting his $15 million asking price, and he took a one-year deal for $6.25 million, a record at the time for any first-time eligible pitcher. (That record was blown out of the water earlier this month when Tim Lincecum, winner of two consecutive Cy Young Awards, signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the Giants.)

This year, Papelbon said a multiyear deal was never really discussed, as he took another one-year contract, this one for $9.35 million.

"We both agreed this year we'll do the one-year deal," Papelbon said Tuesday after throwing off the mound for the first time since the end of last season. "Both of us are happy with that.

"I think they as the Red Sox and Theo [Epstein] as GM have really recognized the importance of my role on this team. I'm very happy for that. I think that when both sides are happy, what more can you ask for?"

Rivera had two Series rings when he became eligible for arbitration for the first time in 1999 and signed a one-year deal for $4.25 million. He went to an arbitration hearing before the following season, 2000, and lost, receiving a contract for $7.25 million after asking for $9.25 million. His $3 million raise was just $100,000 short of what Papelbon received.

The Yankees won another World Series that year, and with Rivera a year away from free agency -- Papelbon will be a year away from free agency after this season -- the Yankees locked him up long-term, signing him to a four-year, $39.99 million deal. Rivera has had two more deals with the Yankees since, and now, at age 40, he is in the last year of a three-year deal that pays him $15 million annually.

Papelbon said he has not talked with the Red Sox about how he fits into their long-term plans, but he challenged the suggestion that he intends to leave when he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.

"I think the perception I'm going to go somewhere else … right now, this is the way it's working out," Papelbon said. "It's that simple. One year at a time is working out; both sides are happy; 'why do anything else?' is my way of thinking.

"Of course I'd love to be in Boston for a long time, but this is the way it is right now. This is the organization I started with, this is the organization that gave me the opportunity to play major league baseball, so of course I'd want to stay here 15 years."

If Papelbon stays healthy and plays an integral role in the Sox's reaching the playoffs again this season, the Red Sox presumably would, like the Yankees, act to keep their closer from walking.

But there are two factors that could alter that equation. Papelbon has demonstrated that he will not settle for anything less than what he considers fair value for his talents, and the Red Sox may not be willing to pay eight figures for a closer. And unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have a prospective closer-in-waiting in Daniel Bard.

The last Yankees closer before Rivera was an All-Star named John Wetteland, who was named MVP of the 1996 World Series after saving all four games against the Atlanta Braves. But after the season, the Yankees allowed Wetteland to leave as a free agent because Rivera was in the wings. And we all know how that worked out.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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