Papelbon ready to cash in on success
Wants salary to be on par with top closers in the game
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For someone who usually lets his intimidating stare from the mound and a blazing fastball speak for him, Jonathan Papelbon used his words on Tuesday to let everyone know he wants a long-term future in Boston at the right price.
Papelbon has already set standards in a Red Sox uniform, saving a franchise rookie record 35 games in 2006, the third-most by a rookie closer. He followed that up with 37 saves last season and has a 1.62 ERA in 135 career games. His 72 saves in his first two seasons are the most by a Boston pitcher.
Papelbon laid the groundwork for a new contract following his perfect fourth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at City of Palms Park.
"It's a tough situation for me right now because, basically, I'm at a point to where I feel like the position I'm in, there's a certain standard that needs to be put in place here," Papelbon said of looking for a long-term contract. "I feel like, with me being at the top of my position, I feel like that standard needs to be set. I'm the one to set that standard, and I don't think that the Red Sox are really necessarily seeing eye-to-eye with me on that subject right now, but hopefully we can get somewhere."
Mariano Rivera, with a Yankees-record 443 saves in his career, signed a three-year, $45 million contract in the offseason.
The right-hander believes when his new contract is done, he should be in the same class as the best relievers in the game.
"We're chugging away at this thing and we want to get it done, believe me," Papelbon said. "We can move on, but at the same time, I feel a certain obligation, not only to myself and my family to make the money that I deserve, but for the game of baseball.
"Mariano Rivera has been doing it for the past 10 years, and with me coming up behind him, I feel a certain obligation to do the same."
In his third big league season, Papelbon made $425,500 in 2007. The right-hander will sign for this season at a salary set by the team.
"Yeah, I'm at the mercy of the club right now to a certain extent, but it's just a matter of ironing out the numbers," Papelbon said. "We haven't ironed them out yet, and hopefully we can get to a mutual agreement. I don't want to renew. I don't want to. But if I have to, I have to. It's just the cold, hard facts of it. And if I have to do that to set the tone, that's what I'd do. We'll figure something out.
Papelbon said he is not about to let his contract issue get in the way of preparing for another productive season.
"It hasn't been a distraction," he said. "I feel like this year, as far as focus and coming into camp knowing what I'm going to do what I need to do, has been better than any camp I've been to, to this date in big league camp. I feel like I'm making tremendous strides right now, and I feel like, not only with my delivery, but with my arm strength with this third pitch that's coming along, so it's not distracting me. I haven't let it bother me.''
Papelbon, who is trying to work a slider into his arsenal, has allowed just one hit in two scoreless innings so far this spring.
"I feel good," he said after his perfect inning against the Pirates. "The ball seems to be coming out of my hand better and better as the spring goes on. And I got two of my outs today on my slider, which to me was a big step for me. ... [Pitching coach] John [Farrell] thought one of my sliders, the last out that I threw, was a split-finger. So, I'm getting depth on it and I'm getting that third pitch and getting it ready for the season, and I feel like it's coming along well.
"I feel like I can go out there and start the season and be a three-pitch closer, and I feel like the confidence is steadily growing on it," Papelbon said. "Today was a real positive for me."
Papelbon said the decision to add the slider was actually based on his feel from last season.
"There were times last year that I said, 'Man, it would really be nice to have a third pitch that I could throw in any count,'" Papelbon said. "When I say a third pitch, I mean a pitch I can throw in any count, in any situation, against any team, against any hitter. And there were definitely times where I wish I did have that, and so I went to the offseason with that mindset and took Spring Training with the same mindset of going and learning a new pitch.
"I think this year, you got to keep them on their toes, and for me to add that third pitch would not only help me keep the hitters on their toes, but just have another bullet in the arsenal to deal with," he added. "These hitters are so good nowadays, and they have so much video footage that you always got to be one step ahead of them. If you're not trying to be one step ahead of them they'll bury you, and I feel like that's what I need to do -- is stay one step ahead -- and that's what this pitch hopefully will allow me to do."
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.