Jonathan Papelbon should be looking over his shoulder. At first considered the rock of the Red Sox bullpen, Papelbon is quickly eroding his own reputation and opening the door for the more consistent, if still more raw, Daniel Bard.

Still, despite certain trade rumors to the contrary, this writer is confident that Papelbon won’t be dealt this season.

That’s not to preclude a move as early as this offseason, particularly if Papelbon continues to struggle shutting the door. Indeed, rather than shortening games, Papelbon’s 2010 performances have begun shortening his career in Boston.

Yet, as nail-biting have been his appearances this year, Papelbon remains one of the elite closers in the game, and he and Bard have emerged as the only solid pieces in a fatigued and aging pen.

Hideki Okajima renders a shadow of his Championship self when he toes the rubber. Since his magical Rookie year as Daisuke Matsuzaka’s tag along, when Okajima posted a 2.22 ERA, Red Sox fans have watched with growing unease as that unexpectedly effective number has risen to an appalling 5.47 in 2010.

Manny Delcarmen, long more dominant early in the season than later, has already started to show his post-May colors. While his 2010 season ERA rests at a tidy 3.03, in June Delcarmen has been knocked around to a 7.36 mark. Over his career, Delcarmen has indeed become increasingly less effective as his innings mount, and if he follows that track, he could post a post-All-Star-break ERA in the neighborhood of 8.00.

After achieving a shocking level of excellence with his 2.84 ERA during the 2009 Red Sox campaign, former Rule 5 Draft pick Ramon Ramirez has regressed to his earlier, more disastrous days with the Rockies and now sadly owns a 4.88 ERA in 2010. Like Delcarmen, innings and late summer months are no friends of Ramirez, and he should only prove less effective as the many, many games roll by.

Thus, regardless of Jonathan Papelbon’s future as a major trade chip and Daniel Bard’s potential as the Sox’ next closer, the 2010 Red Sox are in serious need of relief if they are to contend down the stretch in the suddenly thickly contested American League East.

Now, according to, Red Sox Assistant General Manager Ben Cherington commented on Sirius XM Radio that Boston will in fact be looking to upgrade its bullpen before the trade deadline.

Through a combination of team record, individual performance, franchise finances, and individual contract, these 20 relievers are the most attractive candidates to fill Boston’s currently Zombie-filled pen.

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