Papelbon on Toronto’s Jaydar
By Matt Veasey
In a highly unusual development on Friday afternoon in Clearwater, the Phillies sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to the mound to make the start against the New York Yankees.
No, things haven’t gotten so bad with the rotation that the team is considering switching the longtime closer’s role. Well, things are bad with that rotation, but those troubles were not the reason for this unusual starting outing.
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There were three reasons that Papelbon took the mound at the start of this game. First, there was a storm coming. That coupled with the second reason, the Phils wanted him to get in some work against live hitters in real game action, were a main impetus.
However, the third reason that the Phillies gave a starting outing to their usual closer was perhaps even more interesting. In the stands for this game as a spectator was Alex Anthopoulos, the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. He was there specifically to scout Papelbon.
“Yes, Toronto, interests me…They’re a good team. If Ruben can do a deal with them, I’d be interested.” ~ Papelbon
All during the spring, the Jays have been considered as perhaps the perfect trade partner for the Phillies regarding Papelbon. They have money, they have visions of contending, and they lack a proven closer of their own. Now as spring training winds to its final week, Toronto appears to be getting more serious.
When the possibility of a trade to the Jays was presented to him earlier this spring, Jim Salisbury at CSN quoted him: “Yes, Toronto, interests me–if it interests Ruben. I know some of the guys on their coaching staff. They’re a good team. If Ruben can do a deal with them, I’d be interested.”
Jays GM Anthopoulos was in the stands on Friday scouting Papelbon.
(Photo: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports)
There is a likelihood that Papelbon, through his agent, would require an acquiring team such as Toronto to pick up his 2016 option in order to approve the trade. He has a $13 million option that vests automatically if he finishes 48 games this coming season.
The presence of the Blue Jays’ GM this late in the spring can be seen as nothing less than a true scouting opportunity, and a final one before talks about names on the other side begin with Phillies GM Ruben Amaro.
Now the question of finalizing an actual trade likely hinges on two questions: do the Phils pick up any of the money on the Papelbon contract, and which prospect(s) do they receive in return. Picking up any or more of that contract might increase the talent on the prospect coming back.
Toronto does have some good prospects. There system is generally considered one of the top 10 in the game. Pitchers who might come back to the Phillies in a deal with the Jays include righties Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro, and Sean-Reid Foley and/or lefties like Matt Smoral and Jairo Labourt.
Position players that the Phils might be interested in, and who could be available in a Papelbon deal, include infielders Devon Travis and Mitch Nay, and outfielders Dwight Smith Jr, Anthony Alford, and D.J. Davis.
Whatever the particulars, there is no doubt that the conversation is about to take place between Anthopoulos, Amaro, and Pat Gillick. The outcome of that converstion is going to determine whether the Phillies open the season with Jonathan Papelbon or Ken Giles as their closer.