MLB.com confirmed on Friday that Papelbon has agreed to a four-year deal with the Phillies, reportedly worth nearly $50 million, with a fifth-year vesting option.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington spoke Friday evening at Fenway Park as though Papelbon's deal was not yet finalized -- it's pending a physical -- but said Boston would not offer, and would not have offered, Papelbon four years this early in free agency.
"We never made an offer, haven't made an offer to this point," Cherington said. "We have had a lot of discussions with Sam and Seth [Levinson, Papelbon's agents], about the concepts. To this point, it's been clear that where we see it, what we'd be willing to do at this point in the offseason -- given what our other needs are and given what we feel the alternatives are -- is not something that matched up with what Pap was looking for.
"So because of that, we never made, haven't made a formal offer. I've seen the news out there today, I haven't seen confirmation yet that the deal is done, but I've seen the news out there today and it wouldn't surprise me if that happens."
Papelbon, who turns 31 this month, was a Type A free agent, so Boston will receive Philadelphia's first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, as well as another selection in the supplemental first round if the compensation rules in baseball's new collective bargaining agreement remain unchanged.
A right-hander born in Louisiana and living in Mississippi, Papelbon departs as arguably the best closer in team history. After Boston drafted him in the fourth round in 2003, Papelbon saved 219 games over the past six seasons, taking over as the full-time closer in '06, his first full year in the Majors. He holds the club's all-time saves record.
"I'd be disappointed in the sense that I have a great admiration for Pap," Cherington said of Papelbon's departure. "Love to have him on the team still, but it wouldn't be surprising if the reports are true."
A four-time All-Star, Papelbon had 31 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 63 games in 2011, a rebound year after a disappointing '10. He was on the mound when Boston won its last World Series in 2007, and went 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA and seven saves in 18 career postseason appearances.
Papelbon's final regular-season totals with the Red Sox feature a 23-19 record, a 2.33 ERA and 509 strikeouts over 429 1/3 innings and 396 appearances.
Papelbon long made clear he intended to test the market. After he blew the save in the last game of this season, a 4-3 regular-season loss to the Orioles that completed September's collapse, Papelbon said he wanted to return to the Red Sox next season -- but he also made clear he had a business decision in front of him.
"I think this organization is obviously an organization I want to play for," he said. "I have to let the offseason dictate that, and whatever happens, happens."
The Red Sox, too, had a business decision to make, and with a healthy number of closers available externally, and possibly in-house, too, Cherington wasn't ready to give Papelbon the offer he wanted.
"The shorter the better," Cherington said of his approach to four-year contracts for closers. "It's a position where there's a great volatility as you know, but we wouldn't rule that out. In this particular case, Pap's case, that's not something that we would've done at this point in the offseason."
Cherington said earlier in the week that Papelbon and his reps did not owe the Red Sox a call before signing, and there was indeed no call made to the Sox alerting them a deal was on the brink.
"No, I don't think they owed us," Cherington said Friday. "I don't think he owes us a phone call back, just based on the conversations I've had with Sam and Seth. We weren't going to be able to bridge that gap at this point in the offseason. We certainly wanted to leave the door open as we got deeper into the offseason, as circumstances changed for either side, that perhaps there was something that could've been worked out."