Originally posted on Ted's Army  |  Last updated 10/29/11

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The celebratory bubbly barely had time to dry last night in St. Louis when the free agent field started taking shape. For the next five days, eligible players may negotiate only with their most recent team. By Thursday, though, the overwhelming majority will be free to seek offers from other clubs.

Jonathan Papelbon has been waiting for this moment.

The Red Sox [team stats] closer has long stated his willingness to pitch under a string of one-year contracts, risking injury and other depreciation to his value, until he reached free agency. Now, at age 31 (next month) and coming off a dominating season, he’s finally able to test his worth on the open market.

Herald | Open market for Red Sox closer

Considering we're dealing with needing a new GM and manager, not to mention questions about 3B, DH, and RF -- and that we hate most of our starters -- it may be odd to mention Papelbon as the first piece of business.

But I do think it's the most important thing we have to decide.

If we bring him back, we're committing a lot of money -- 8 figures a year, certainly -- to a player at a position that the Red Sox don't historically value. 

With a lot of money already on the books for Gonzalez, Crawford, Lackey, Beckett, Lester, Pedroia, Youkilis, and Matsuzaka, it further limits any other potential free agent spending.

And it brings us to a head with Daniel Bard. Do we continue rolling him out in the 8th, or do we look into transforming him into a starter, as has been rumored?

If we let him go, we're losing a lock-down closer who is doing things statistically speaking that have only done by Mariano Rivera. He's a proven commodity in the pressure cooker of Boston, despite a misstep or two. We also likely commit to Daniel Bard as the closer, because it's nonsensical that the Red Sox would be unwilling to spend on Papelbon, yet would then spend free agency money on another big-name reliever. (And don't get me started on Bobby Jenks.)

This is a major decision for Ben Cherington; in my mind, it's bigger than the manager. I've gone back and forth as to how I feel, but I'm pro-Papelbon right now. I wouldn't bring him back at any cost -- certainly not if his agent reaches for the stars like I speculated in August -- but if they could settle on 4 years at about $15 million a year, I'd sign. Consistency is hard to ensure in baseball, and Pap has been as consistent as you can be at that position.

And, of course, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals for beating what I'd consider to be a better team. I'm happy for their fans, particularly considering they may have a very difficult offseason in front of them (if Albert Pujols fails to re-sign). It's always best to go out on a good note.

Herald | Cardinals win World Series, beat Rangers in game 7 | Brian Cashman closing in on extension with Yankees | Globe | Larry Lucchino defends John Henry, Josh Beckett | How the Red Sox almost had David Freese | Selig may need to intervene | CSNNE | Lucchino/Epstein relationship may have prompted Theo's move | ESPNBoston | Red Sox to start manager interviews next week | Bud Selig may settle Epstein deal

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