Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon found himself swarmed by tape recorders and video cameras in the Red Sox locker room on Sunday afternoon, swarmed by reporters all looking for follow-up to the comments he made to WEEI.com on Saturday about the team's possible acquisition of Billy Wagner.
Papelbon, as could be expected, wasn't exactly effusive in his excitement about a potential trade for another potential closer. He expressed skepticism then -- "It's kind of like the (Eric) Gagne thing, I guess," he said -- and didn't really back down a day later.
"The biggest thing that you look at when you're trying to acquire somebody is the fact that when you acquire somebody, you have to get rid of somebody," Papelbon said. "Somebody has to go. What I said yesterday was that I like the way our bullpen sets up right now. That's the tough situation you put your bullpen in."
He then was asked if he thought a trade for Wagner might be disruptive this late in the season for a bullpen that's remained mostly intact for the entire season.
"We have a good dynamic down there in the bullpen," he said. "We have guys who know how to work well together. Is Billy Wagner a great pitcher? Would he bring more depth to our bullpen and make our bullpen better? There's no question about it. But you have to also think about what we have now and what we've been able to accomplish to this point in the season and how good we've pitched."
He's entitled to his opinion. He's certainly entitled to his loyalty to the guys with whom he spends as much time as he does with his wife. But that doesn't mean he's right.
A couple of rebuttals:
1. Relievers don't "work well together."
A pitcher is on an island. He warms up and comes into the game and goes and takes a shower. This isn't like a quarterback working well with wide receivers or a point guard working well with centers or power forwards. What Manny Delcarmen does -- except for the matter of inherited runners -- has nothing to do with what Ramon Ramirez does. A good joke told in the bullpen in the third inning doesn't make Hideki Okajima's curveball any sharper in the eighth.
2. Red Sox relievers don't have set roles. Part of the beauty of the Red Sox bullpen, in fact, has been its flexibility in the late innings.
Papelbon has been the closer all along, but no one else has staked a claim to any particular role. Okajima is the closest thing Terry Francona has to an eighth-inning guy with 36 appearances in the eighth inning, but Ramirez has 28. Daniel Bard has 15 eighth-inning appearances, and he wasn't called up until mid-May.
Wagner wouldn't affect bullpen roles because the Red Sox don't have bullpen roles. Francona and John Farrell regulate rest and workload pretty thoroughly, and if Okajima pitches the eighth inning one night, Wagner could pitch the eighth inning the next night. There are plenty of innings to go around.
3. Someone can go. Someone can always go.
Maybe Papelbon hasn't noticed, but the last spot in the Red Sox bullpen has been something of a revolving door this season. Among the names: Javier Lopez, Hunter Jones, Michael Bowden, Enrique Gonzalez, Marcus McBeth, Billy Traber, Fernando Cabrera, Michael Bowden again, and Enrique Gonzalez again.
If you don't think Billy Wagner is an upgrade on those names, you're crazy -- which brings us to...
4. Billy Wagner has a track record as a lights-out reliever.
Papelbon did acknowledge that Wagner is a great pitcher. But his ambivalence to the deal shows that he might have forgotten what type of pitcher Wagner was back when he was healthy. Here's the stat worth highlighting: Since 1996, Wagner has finished a season with an ERA of 3.00 or better once -- just once. He might be an injury risk at 37 years old, but he had a 2.30 ERA in 47 innings pitched last season at the age of 36.
He still, of course, might flop. But after the Red Sox traded for Gagne two years ago, they finished the season celebrating a World Series championship at Coors Field in Denver.
The Red Sox bullpen also has put up the following month-by-month ERAs:
If the price is right, what is there to lose?