Papelbon Trade Pros and Cons

ethanwitte
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By now, you know that Jonathan Papelbon and all his Saves have been shipped down I-95 to Washington in exchange for minor league arm Nick Pivetta. Reaction to this trade was actually pretty mixed:

Most Phillies fans understand that Pap’s time had come to an end with the club. Baseball teams with losing records have no reason to continue to employ an expensive closer, especially when other team’s bullpens are in tatters. Putting Papelbon on the market was the responsible thing to do, both from a baseball standpoint and a fiscal one. However, there are still pros and cons to trading the franchise’ all time leader in Saves.

The best part of this trade was from a monetary standpoint. The Phillies no longer have to pay into his option for next year, as it has been re-negotiated and will be paid entirely by the Nationals. That’s $13 million basically added to next year’s Phillies payroll.

That the Phils were able to get another team to take on that contract is a miracle in and of itself. It furthers the idea that the team management fully understands that next year’s free agent market has a few attractive pieces that can help both in the short- and long-terms, and that they are prepared to spend some of the money they have coming off of the books.

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Plus, continuing to pay a closer is a luxury losing teams simply don’t need. Even though the team is a bad one, and will probably be a bad one next year, there simply is no reason to continue to pay Papelbon that kind of money, especially when he is much more valuable to some other team actualy trying to win a pennant right now. Hence, the Nationals acquiring him.

This is another sign, perhaps, that there is a philosophical change in the Phillies’ front office. They understood this concept of evaluating closers and properly moved his contract to a team who would value Papelbon’s abilities much more than they were worth to the current Phils. These are all good signs.

However, and hear me out here, the con to the trade is that it comes with the inevitable installation of Ken Giles as the team’s closer. The reason is that a) he throws really hard, and b) he’s now the best reliever on the team. Should the best reliever be used only in the 9th inning? Another question for another day.

Let me take you back to when Papelbon was signed by the Phillies. Some writers liked that the team got a dominant closer, but disliked the contract. Others flat out hated the signing. All in all, the general consensus was that the Phillies paid too much, too soon for Papelbon, especially when the reliever market cratered later that offseason.

Paying relievers that much money simply wasn’t a necessity, especially, as Keith Law put it, they’re so “volatile“. Plus, paying these closers hurts their trade value if/when it comes time to trade them. Look at Papelbon. All Ruben Amaro was able to fetch was a minor league arm who may or may not have a shot at the back end of a rotation.

Now look at Giles. He’s in his second year in the pros, making slightly over $500,000. Why is he so valuable right now? He’s young, cheap and good. He will probably finish this season with 10-12 saves, which will inflate his value next year. Let’s say Giles is then given a raise to about $650,000. Still a bargain, right? Sure – if you can guarantee that he will continue to dominate.

Remember, much of Giles’ ability is based on the fact that he can throw the ball really hard. Earlier in the season, he was having trouble doing so, reaching “only” 95.7 miles per hour on his fastball, a far cry from the 98 he averaged last year.  Now, say Giles earns 25-30 saves next year. Now he heads to arbitration. Do you lock him up, pay him year to year, or trade him?

It must be asked because he’ll start getting expensive (arbitration mediators love Saves). The point is, Giles’ value to the team will start to nosedive at some point, because he’s not cheap anymore.

Not that I am championing this idea, but had the team hung on to Papelbon one more year, then traded him over the winter or at the next deadline, they would have the coinciding effect of not having to pay Giles the escalating salaries that come with accumulating Saves.

I’m not here to trash this trade at all. I think it was a good one, one that had to be done. Papelbon had worn out his welcome, stating rather vocally that he would rather be anywhere else than in Philadelphia. I am saying that if all things are considered, the potential is there that the team just cost itself more money in the future by getting rid of it now.

With all of the Comcast money coming in, and contracts coming off of the books, perhaps they would be able to cover up mistakes with greenbacks. I’m just not sure it would be the wisest allocation of resources. After all, isn’t that what fans hated Amaro for the most?

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