Jonathan Papelbon: Stay or Go?


Moving Jonathan Papelbon should be easy, may prove problematic

(Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

As the winter of rebuilding discontent continues, the Jonathan Papelbon dilemma continues to fester, a predicament defying a satisfactory solution.

In this case, however, the player in question has on-field value to a contending team.  The problem is two-pronged: a perceived reputation and (gasp) a bad contract doled out by the general manager.  Much like the Ryan Howard situation, the Phillies would have to pick up the tab on a substantial portion of the remaining deal.

The Phillies are, without question, rebuilding.  The need to jettison aging, over-compensated players is great.  The need to replenish a barren farm system is even greater.

More from That Balls Outta Here

What the 2014 season proved more than anything was that Ken Giles is more-than-ready to be a lights-out, major league closer, as TBOH reported just last week.  What better time than the present to ship Papelbon to a contending team for a couple of prospects?

For all of the negativity surrounding Papelbon, there is no question that he is still a quality big league closer.  He doesn’t throw in the mid-to-upper 90’s anymore.  He doesn’t have the same velocity and break on his slider.

But what he does have is a wealth of experience, and he knows how to pitch.  For those qualities alone, a deal needs to be made for the sake of both parties.

After a bit of a down year in 2013, Papelbon returned with a stellar 2014 campaign.  He is not the strikeout pitcher he once was, but the numbers from last year are quite surprising.  His WHIP was 0.905 – his lowest since his last season with the Boston Red Sox.

His 2.04 ERA, 39 saves, and 8.5 K/9 rate were also impressive for someone who was left for dead by some scouts.  In his three seasons with the Phillies, Papelbon has a 2.45 ERA and has converted 106 of 121 save opportunities.

What hurts him more than the occasional blown save on the field are his antics off the field.  Papelbon, on numerous occasions, has stated publicly that he didn’t come here to lose.

He also voiced his displeasure about players who wanted to stay here and play for a losing team.  To many, it sounded like a thinly veiled jab at Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins who stated they didn’t want to play anywhere else.

Then there is the now infamous crotch-grabbing (protective cup adjusting) incident after blowing a save against the Miami Marlins last September.  What Papelbon will soon learn is that Philadelphia sports fans don’t forget anything.  EVER!

The best-case scenario is for Papelbon to be traded to a contending team full of veterans.  Veterans who will help him ‘toe the company line.’  Veterans like Darren Daulton who roamed the clubhouse at ‘The Vet’ and sternly warned his teammates, “No popping off in the media.”

The teams who present good situations for Papelbon are all in the American League.  The best fit would be the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Blue Jays added Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson to a lineup that already included the likes of Jose Bautista and Juan Encarnacion.

The Jays will score plenty of runs, but with former closer Casey Janssen out of the picture, Toronto will need someone for preventing opposition runs in the ninth inning.  Enter Papelbon.

The Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees are also potential landing spots.  The Tigers and Papelbon were linked in the ‘rumor mill’ at the trade deadline last July.  Joe Nathan was abysmal last year – a shadow of the great closer he once was, and Joakim Soria is nowhere near where he was with the Kansas City Royals.

Ken Giles will be the next Phillies closer

(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The Tigers are one of the early favorites to capture the American League pennant next season.  With a powerhouse lineup and starting rotation, they will need to shore-up the back-end of the bullpen.

The Yankees are reeling from being spurned by erstwhile closer David RobertsonAndrew Miller has never been a full-time closer and youngster Dellin Betances, who has wipeout stuff, is an unproven ninth-inning commodity.

So here is Papelbon – wanting to get out of Dodge and into a postseason penthouse.  Unfortunately for him, teams don’t pay closers $13 million per season.  So once again, the Phillies would have to choke down a significant wad of cash to move a player for whom they no longer have use.

Then there are those tricky ‘Ruben Specials.’  While most teams give out ‘club options’ on a players’ contract, the Phillies general manager gives out ‘player options’ and ‘vesting options’ as quickly as a politician gives out handshakes.

Should the Phillies find no takers, it is a distinct possibility that Papelbon sulks in South Philly for two more seasons.  He has a $13 million vesting option for 2016 which vests if he finishes 55 games in 2015, or a combined 100 games in 2014/2015.

So what happens if Papelbon has another stellar season and is rapidly approaching the vesting numbers around August?  The Phillies would have to keep pitching him.  Should Papelbon’s appearances magically start disappearing, the Phillies could expect a grievance filed by the players’ union faster than an ambulance chaser appears at a crash site.

Phillies fans should be heartened to know that the hard-earned money they shell out to attend a game at Citizens Bank Park could very well be used to pay Papelbon in Toronto, Howard in Baltimore, and Marlon Byrd in Cincinnati.  That’s a lot of money to choke on.

We might all need a gallon of milk to wash that down.