Jonathan Papelbon can do his Irish Jig on Broad Street. A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that the Philadelphia Phillies and Papelbon have agreed to a $50 million, four-year contract that's the largest ever for a reliever. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Friday because the deal had not yet been announced and is subject to Papelbon passing a physical.
Papelbon, who turns 31 on Nov. 23, had 219 saves over seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox, including 31 this year, when he made $12 million. He will replace Ryan Madson, who also is a free agent.
The previous high for relievers had been $47 million, with B.J. Ryan agreeing to a five-year contract with Toronto before the 2006 season and Joe Nathan getting a four-year deal from Minnesota in March 2008.
Papelbon's deal includes an option for 2016 that could become guaranteed based on games finished and would make the deal worth $63 million over five seasons.
Madson's agent, Scott Boras, and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. were close to a $44 million, four-year deal on Monday. But the person familiar with Papelbon's deal said Amaro told Boras the following day that team president Dave Montgomery wouldn't approve the deal. That offer included a vesting option that would have taken the contract to $57 million over five years.
The Phillies have long been opposed to giving pitchers contracts beyond three years. They made an exception last year when they signed left-hander Cliff Lee to a $120 million, five-year deal.
The right-handed Papelbon, a four-time All-Star, helped the Red Sox to the 2007 World Series title. He donned a kilt and danced his trademark Irish jig at the championship celebration.
Papelbon can do whatever he likes if he can help the Phillies secure another World Series title. Philadelphia has won five straight NL East titles and is seeking its second Series victory since 2008. The Phillies lost in the World Series to the New York Yankees in 2009, were eliminated in the NLCS in 2010 and got knocked out in the NL division series this year.
Madson was outstanding in his first year as the team's closer, converting 32 of 34 chances. He was Brad Lidge's setup man for the previous three years, and spent his first nine seasons in Philadelphia. Madson was 47-30 with a 3.59 ERA and 52 saves in 491 career games, including 18 starts.
Papelbon, a starter in the minor leagues, has converted 88.3 percent of his save opportunities to go with a 23-19 record and a 2.33 ERA in 396 career appearances. He had a career-high 41 saves in 2008.
Signing a closer and re-signing former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins were Philadelphia's top two offseason priorities. Rollins, a three-time All-Star shortstop, wants to return to the Phillies and the team wants to bring him back at the right price.
Papelbon is a Type A free agent, meaning the Phillies will have to forfeit their first draft pick in next year's amateur draft to Boston - unless that rule changes in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Papelbon, the first major free-agent signing this year, is the first player to leave the Red Sox in a turbulent offseason that began with the departure of manager Terry Francona and was followed by general manager Theo Epstein going to the Chicago Cubs. David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew, Tim Wakefield and Erik Bedard also are free agents.
"Pap has worked extremely hard to put himself in this position," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "We knew he was going to be in demand. We knew teams in a position to win would have an interest, and Philadelphia is one of those teams."
Papelbon blew a save on the final day of the regular season to complete Boston's monumental collapse that led to all those changes. The Red Sox led the AL East for much of the season and held a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay in the wild-card race on the morning of Sept. 4. But Boston went 7-20 in September to blow the lead and miss the playoffs entirely. Papelbon was one strike away from securing a win against the Orioles in the final game before giving up two runs in Baltimore's 4-3 win.
This article was originally published on November 11, 2011.
This program aired on November 11, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.