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Red Sox struggling to replace Jonathan Papelbon

Adam Lind watches his solo home run in the ninth inning, which ended up the game-winner, fly out to center field. Junichi Tazawa, who gave up the blast, is a lot less interested in looking.
Adam Lind watches his solo home run in the ninth inning, which ended up the game-winner, fly out to center field. Junichi Tazawa, who gave up the blast, is a lot less interested in looking.jared wickerham/getty images/Getty

There weren’t many people who thought the Red Sox obtaining both Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan was a bad thing.

But the lesson learned is perhaps you’re better off just leaving things alone sometime.

If you have a player who works for you in this market — say Jonathan Papelbon — why not bite the bullet and keep him?

This is an old story. Papelbon is fully embedded in Phillies Nation. But the story has become fresh again because the Red Sox have had so much trouble with closers since they let Papelbon go. What they are finding is it’s not so easy to replace a known commodity; Papelbon not only was one of the best, he remained healthy for so long.


After Papelbon left, the Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, a two-time All-Star with Oakland. The Sox gave up a good player in Josh Reddick. There was no outrage at the time because Bailey was a good closer and Reddick was a fourth outfielder for the Sox. He went to Oakland and flourished. Bailey came to Boston and has spent a lot of time on the disabled list.

Knowing of Bailey’s injury history, and unsure how well he would come back from the thumb surgery that kept him out until August of last season, the Sox traded for Hanrahan.

The Pirates made him available because they didn’t want to devote the resources to re-sign him as a free agent and because of his second-half dropoff last season, so they got a package of players from Boston including Mark Melancon, whom the Sox had obtained from Houston in the Jed Lowrie deal.

Melancon never really did it in Boston and is having a good season in Pittsburgh.

Now Hanrahan is gone for the season with flexor tendon, and possibly Tommy John, surgery. The Sox are paying him $7.04 million and he’s a free agent and may never pitch for them again.


Bailey remains on the DL with a biceps injury, and although he may be back soon, how much can you rely on a guy who has been injured that much?

Junichi Tazawa is now the closer. Saturday he entered a 2-2 game vs. Toronto in the ninth inning and surrendered a home run to Adam Lind. He lost, 3-2.

We’ve heard this all before but we’ll repeat it. Some teams think it’s easy to replace a good closer. Sometimes you can, but oftentimes you can’t.

For all of Papelbon’s blemishes, he was consistent. You knew what to expect, and except for the time he had a subluxation of his shoulder, he was healthy — and he remains healthy.

The Sox invested a lot of time and resources in keeping Papelbon healthy, but they decided at the time they weren’t going to pay Papelbon’s free agent demands. As it turns out, they’re probably paying what they might have paid him anyway.

Sometimes you just have to stay with what works. Just like Cody Ross, Adrian Beltre, and Victor Martinez all worked in Boston.

Now, two closers into the season, they turn their lonely eyes to the 26-year-old Tazawa.

“I was given the chance to succeed so I feel bad about it,” Tazawa said. “It was a slider and I left it up a little bit and I wanted to get it a little bit more inside. It caught too much of the plate.”


Asked about pressure of the role, he said, “I didn’t feel any additional pressure. I thought I might, but I didn’t. I just wanted to give my best and contribute to the team as best as I can.”

Bear in mind this was a tie situation; he didn’t come in with the lead.

“I think there is some additional pressure just trying to concentrate on each pitch,” Tazawa said. “But I should be fine.”

And we don’t disagree. It’s just that the Red Sox now need to turn to a pitcher who wasn’t earmarked for the role.

Nobody can predict injuries, so what’s happened to Hanrahan and Bailey is unfortunate, but part of the consistency of being a closer is being able to stay healthy.

“I have confidence in everybody on this team, we’re well-prepared and work hard and we have each other’s back. I don’t know what to say to him,” catcher David Ross said. “It’s a pitch he didn’t execute and he paid for it. It’s a major league baseball game. Taz is one of our best, which is why they chose to put him in the closer role. It was just one of those things.”

We’re already hearing rumblings that the Sox might be looking for a late-inning reliever.

They would join a number of teams in that pursuit. There are always rehab guys such as Brian Wilson who could be available later in the season. The Sox don’t necessarily need a closer if they entrust that to Bailey in a week or so. But they need more stability.


They want to see what Jose De La Torre can do. They also have Pedro Beato, Chris Carpenter, and Ryan Rowland-Smith in Pawtucket, who might be able to add some bullpen depth. But while they are pitchers with good arms, they’ve had their problems when called up to the majors.

Manager John Farrell was asked about Tazawa not being as dominant recently.

“Not [with his] stuff,” he said. “He’s been as powerful. He’s had good secondary pitches with the exception of the 2-2 breaking pitch [slider] that doesn’t get to the spot on [Lind]. It’s not been a matter of stuff. Still, location is going to be the key in any situation.”

This is a shame for the Red Sox and Hanrahan. Nobody wants to get injured in their free agent season. That situation could work in Boston’s favor if it wants to re-sign him to a one-year deal. But there’s a long way to go before now and then, and you would never enter the season with a rehabbing pitcher as your primary closer.

We know there’s no looking back. We’re just saying, the lesson learned is stick with what works in your market. And Papelbon worked.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.