According to Jon Heyman of, the Boston Red Sox explored the possibility of trading their closer Jonathan Papelbon if they could have signed former free agent closer Rafael Soriano.

In this Sept. 21, 2010, file photo, Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon scratches his head as he walks off the mound after giving up four earned runs to the Baltimore Orioles in a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston.The Red Sox showed interest in Soriano, and appeared willing to do a one-year deal for him to be their closer. Had that happened, Boston would have found a new home for Papelbon, probably Oakland or the White Sox.

The Red Sox were unable to trade Papelbon because teams saw a high number like this on the horizon.

The high number Heyman is talking about is the $12 million contract that Papelbon got in an arbitration deal with the Red Sox. Soriano ended up signing a three-year, $35 million contract with the New York Yankees.

It’s definitely looking more and more like this will be Papelbon’s final season in Boston. With Daniel Bard waiting in the wings and Bobby Jenks signed for two years, the Red Sox can let him go.

But as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal points out, the Red Sox could end up losing Papelbon without getting anything in return for him.

According to the rules, the Red Sox have to offer Papelbon salary arbitration to collect draft picks. After having earned $12 million in 2011, Papelbon would be in line to ask for a salary around $14 or $15 million — which would be the second-highest salary for any relief pitcher in history, trailing only the otherworldly Mariano Rivera.

If the relief-pitching market remains as depressed next winter as it is now — Jenks signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Red Sox despite an impressive career track record — Papelbon might well accept arbitration and return to Boston, a jolt to a payroll that will start absorbing the Adrian Gonzalez contract extension that same year.

But losing Papelbon wouldn’t guarantee compensation picks. The Red Sox would have to take a pretty big financial gamble — a $14-$15 million gamble — to get those picks.

Although there is no official Gonzalez contract extension, we all know that it’s coming sometime after opening day this year. My guess would be right around the first homestand for the Red Sox which begins on April 8th against the Yankees.

It makes you wonder if the Red Sox will explore trading Papelbon around the trading deadline to get something in return. Otherwise, they’ll have to roll the dice and hope for the best when the time comes next year.

Photo credit: AP Photo