Sure, some of it was surprising.
If you were told at the beginning of the offseason that Jonathan Papelbon was going to get the kind of offer it was reported the Phillies initially sent Ryan Madson's way -- four years, $44 million with a $13 million vesting option -- there certainly would have been some eyebrow-raising. That sort of deal, judging by recent closers' contracts, would have been a feather in Papelbon's cap.
But he didn't get that. He got something better.
Papelbon said from the time he put starting in the rear-view mirror in 2007 that he was going to set the financial standard for closers. Mariano Rivera (or, as the Red Sox reliever preferred to call him, "The Godfather") had reeled in a record $15 million a season over three years, and now it was up to Papelbon to take it to the next level.
At most turns, Papelbon did what he could to live up to his word. The statistics flooded in over his six years as the Sox closer, all the way until the conclusion of 2011, at least cementing himself as the entity he strived to become during his last spring training as a member of the Red Sox -- the top free agent closer in a crowded market. But setting contractual records? With the sting of the last four-plus-year deals dished out to Joe Nathan, Francisco Cordero, B.J. Ryan and Billy Wagner still fresh, breaking another barrier was going to be a tall task.
But he did it.
The four-year, $50 million contract (which includes a fifth-year vesting option) is historic. It is the most guaranteed money ever allocated to a closer. And topping it off for Papelbon was the fact he landed such a deal with the kind of team he was banking on prioritizing -- one that can win.
The majority of what unfolded Friday shouldn't have offered intrigue. The pieces never quite fit together when it came to Papelbon returning to the Red Sox. The notion that no pitcher in team history had closed in Boston as long as the 30-year-old had wasn't enough to alter the equation. And neither was the production of 2011, the morphing into a clubhouse leader, or even the sentimental image of the reliever winning a cow-milking contest as a member of the Lowell Spinners eight years ago.
There are reasons why Papelbon is taking a physical for the Phillies next week, many of which were right under our noses. Here are some of the questions that might be asked in regard to the loss of a closer, with some at least semi-logical answers:
WHAT DIDN'T THE RED SOX MAKE AN OFFER?
It shocked some when Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington immediately explained Friday that he hadn't yet made any sort of formal offer to Papelbon.
"We never made an offer, or haven't made an offer to this point. I've had a lot of discussions with [Papelbon's agents] Sam and Seth [Levinson] about concepts," Cherington said. "To this point it's been clear where we see it, what we would be willing to do at this point in the offseason, given what our other needs are and given what we feel the alternatives are, is not something that matched up with what Pap was looking for. Because of that we haven't made a formal offer. I've seen the news out there today and I it wouldn't surprise me if that happens.
"Pap has worked extremely hard to put himself in a position to go into free agency coming off a really successful season. We knew he was going to be in demand and we knew teams that were in position to win would have interest in him, and certainly Philly was one of them if that's where he ends up."
But the reality was that Cherington and the Levinsons talked plenty, it was just that neither liked what the other had to say enough to believe that some semblance of common ground was going to be discovered. If the offseason had marched on and the market fell back to the Red Sox way of thinking, or the thought of Papelbon as their closer became more and more attractive with each free agent option dropping off the table, perhaps a legitimate offer could be delivered. But that never came close to happening.
Somewhat predictably, Papelbon's market moved fast. It was par for the course for the Levinsons, who sent shock waves through the general managers meetings last offseason when it was announced Joaquin Benoit had agreed to a three-year deal with the Tigers. The only hope for a Red Sox/Papelbon reunion would be if uncertainty crept into the reliever's camp when the winter meetings rolled around. By all accounts, that wasn't going to happen.
WHY DIDN'T THE LEVINSONS GIVE THE RED SOX A CHANCE TO MATCH?
As polarizing as the previous question might have been, this one raises an equal amount of ire with some. The unsavory departure of Johnny Damon when the Yankees swooped in after the 2005 season still resonated with many Sox' fans. But after listening to Cherington, figuring out why there wasn't an 11th-hour negotiation wasn't difficult to decipher.
"I don't think he owes a phone call back based on the conversations I've had with Sam and Seth," Cherington said. "We weren't going to be able to bridge that gap at this point in the offseason. We certainly wanted to leave the door open if we get deeper into the offseason and circumstances change for either side. At this point in the offseason, this early, there wasn't enough common ground so we didn't make an offer, and because of that it wouldn't be fair for them to come back to us."
It became even clearer after Cherington was asked his thoughts regarding contracts for closers that extended beyond three years. The Red Sox weren't going to give out such a deal with so many options still in play, that much was made clear. So when the Phillies offered the first four-year deal for a closer since the deals given to Nathan and Cordero in '08, there was no longer a need for back-and-forth.
"In Pap's case thats not something we would have done at this point in the offseason," the GM said regarding issuing a four-year deal.
DO THE RED SOX REALLY HAVE VIABLE OPTIONS TO REPLACE PAPELBON?
This was what sealed the deal in the Red Sox' eyes when it came to the willingness to part ways with Papelbon. If there weren't options, perhaps Cherington and Co. may have gotten out of their contractual comfort zone, but there were.
There is absolutely no reliever on the market who is going to get more than a three-year deal from the Red Sox, although there are a few -- Madson, Heath Bell, Cordero and Francisco Rodriguez -- who might warrant a third year. The problem is that there is a healthy chance that another organization won't be so reluctant to give that fourth year, especially after the bar set by Papelbon. (Welcome to building through free agency.)
In a perfect world, Madson might be the best fit. He closed effectively in '11 (after totaling a save percentage of under 50 percent while primarily a setup man in previous years), but also has shown the ability to play the Daniel Bard set-up role with great aplomb. It sounds good to lock up one of these late-inning guys to pitch high leverage innings in the seventh and eighth, but it doesn't always translate if they haven't done it before. That's why a combination of Madson and Bard, with the presence of a healthy Bobby Jenks and perhaps one more buy-low former closer, could do the trick.
The likelihood when it comes to Madson, however, is he will likely be basking in the market set by Papelbon, leaving three-year scenarios off the table.
However, the market is flush with relievers whose values are rock bottom, whether it's due to injury or recent performance. Joe Nathan is intriguing because he is now a year off of Tommy John surgery, and we know that's usually when the command starts coming back. Brad Lidge bounced back in '11 to once again become a valued late-inning guy. Frank Francisco quietly proved effective with the Blue Jays, posting a 1.37 ERA after the All-Star break. Then there are guys coming off various ailments -- such as Jonathan Broxton or David Aardsma -- who are simply trying to reestablish their values.
Cherington has talked about internal options, meaning Bard, Jenks and Aceves, but there will have to be at least some sort of complementary help from the free agent market, or via a trade.
What should be identified here is that the Red Sox aren't going to be finding their next Papelbon heading into '11, a pitcher who will be closing games in Boston for the next six years. But that doesn't mean an effective short-term solution can't be found.
Regardless, a new era has begun. Welcome to a world without Cinco Ocho.