Friday, March 23, 2007

Smoking Popes

Long day of mostly forgettable meetings yesterday, so this is my first opportunity to really think about the news that erstwhile Sox closer and projected starter Jonathan Papelbon is heading back to the pen for the forseeable future. All signs seem to indicate that both Papelbon and the Sox' front office wanted to make this move, which bodes well for organizational harmony. Additionally, the media is reporting that the ballclub is pretty happy with it, which is a positive from a confidence and chemistry perspective.

On the other hand, this leaves a bunch of questions, the answer(s) to which will reveal the ultimate value of the change.

1. Julian Tavarez is now the Sox' 5th starter. Tavarez pitched pretty well in 6 starts at the end of last year, but that was garbage time with far less pressure than he'll face now that he's critical to the Sox' pennant chances. If he's solid, say 150 innings at league-average ERA, then I have to like their odds. If he stinks, though, the Sox 5th starter slot could be the source of much consternation, at least until we know...

2. The status of Jon Lester's recovery. The Sox are better informed (y'know, duh) than anyone about Lester's health and strength. If they feel he'll be able to contribute during the second half of the season, then Tavarez is a reasonably low-risk gamble. If they don't expect much from Lester, then the Tavarez experiment could really blow up, unless...

3. This opens a door for Roger Clemens to come back to Boston. It's now a pretty compelling fit both for the Sox and for the Texas Con Man. My disdain for Clemens is well documented and remains active. I'd have no choice but to hold my nose and root for the Sox if they hired that mercenary bastard, but man would I feel dirty doing it.

On balance, then, I'm supportive of the move. Papelbon seems much happier, and is saying all the right things about his excitement for closing for now and for the next 10 years. The Sox plug a major hole while creating a much smaller one (because the incremental lift in going from Pineiro et al to Papelbon is a hell of a lot greater than the incremental loss in going from Papelbon to Tavarez) and have some options if Tavarez doesn't pan out. All's well that ends well, so long as the ending doesn't feature a 44 year-old douchebag wearing No. 21.

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