FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jonathan Papelbon was going to be the Red Sox closer this season; there was no doubt about that. The only question, really, was how much he would be paid. Would the sides hammer out a multiyear deal? Would Papelbon be renewed at a number set by the club? Should Papelbon really be comparing himself with Mariano Rivera?
That was all settled yesterday. With the Red Sox-Dodgers game in the waning innings, Papelbon agreed to a one-year contract worth $775,000 with a $25,000 bonus for making the All-Star team, as he did last season.
"He seems happy," general manager Theo Epstein said. "His sights might have been set a little higher, but the more information he got, the more he probably realized that we were being really fair with him. He's going to be here a really long time. This isn't his last contract. The relationship between him and the club is a really strong one, so I don't think something like this was going to get in the way."
Though, as Epstein said yesterday, the signing of players not eligible for arbitration isn't usually breaking news, Papelbon forced the issue.
"I'm at a point where I feel like the position I'm in, there's a certain standard that needs to be put in place here," Papelbon said Tuesday. "I feel like with me being at the top of my position, I feel like that standard needs to be set and I'm the one to set that standard."
And he did, with his contract one of the highest for a pitcher who has not reached arbitration, nearly comparable to Rivera's $750,000 deal when the Yankees closer had a similar amount of service time in 1998.
But the pact was not quite as high as the 27-year-old Papelbon desired, with the closer citing Ryan Howard's 2007 Phillies contract of $900,000 as a goal. Still, he did better than fellow closer Bobby Jenks, who was awarded $550,000 after two straight seasons with 40-plus saves for the White Sox. Papelbon had 37 saves in 40 opportunities last season, one year after going 35 for 41. He had a 1.85 ERA in 2007 and struck out 84 batters in 58 1/3 innings. He added 10 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the postseason.
The Red Sox could have renewed Papelbon at the same salary as last year ($425,550), or given him a small raise in his final contract before he becomes arbitration-eligible next year.
"I think it's a reflection that our structure for [pre-arbitration] players is fair and that, ultimately, the players felt the same way," Epstein said. "We tend to be generous within reason to our players, try to reward them for service time and performance, get these things done."
The Red Sox agreed to terms with all 18 of their unsigned players for 2008, none of whom had his contract renewed. The only player to be renewed in the last two years was Kevin Youkilis in 2007. For this season, Dustin Pedroia came to terms ($457,000), as did Jon Lester ($421,500), Manny Delcarmen ($421,000), Jacoby Ellsbury ($406,000), and Clay Buchholz ($396,000). The major league minimum is $390,000 this year.
"It's always nice to reach an agreement, rather than having to unilaterally assign a salary," Epstein said. "It's the club's right to do so, for the basic agreement. But I think it's just common sense that it doesn't always feel good for the player when that has to happen. That said, it's pretty much accepted that pre-arb treatment has no bearing whatsoever on the arbitration process, for better or for worse.
"This is something that you prefer to get done. If you treat the player fairly, you do get it done more often than not. It's a good problem to have, talented, pre-arbitration players. That's a good thing. You find a way to deal with it."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.