Just a month after the disappointing finish to the 2011 season, then-Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed longtime Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50,000,058 contract.
Clubhouse problems aside, Papelbon put together solid numbers for a club that still has not returned to the postseason ever since he signed a then-largest contract for a reliever in Major League Baseball history.
Papelbon saved 123 games for the Phillies over three-plus seasons, along with posting a 14-11 record, 2.31 ERA, and 252-52 strikeouts-to-walks ratio through 237 2/3 innings. Two of his six career All-Star nods came in red pinstripes.
Nowhere near contention near the July 2015 trade deadline, Amaro Jr. dealt Papelbon on an expiring contract to the division-rival Washington Nationals in exchange for then-prospect Nick Pivetta. However, that swap, which sent the Phillies (and Red Sox) franchise saves leader to the nation’s capital for Pivetta — who would eventually appear in 92 games and 396 1/3 innings over three-plus seasons in Philadelphia — nearly never came to fruition.
The Phillies could have traded Jonathan Papelbon to the Blue Jays, not the Nats.
Papelbon confirmed in a recent Sportsnet.ca interview that he had to choice between either going to the Nationals or Toronto Blue Jays. He ultimately chose the former, but regrets the decision looking back.
“Hindsight is 20-20. I wish I would have gone to Toronto now,” Papelbon said. “The reason why I chose to go to the Nationals instead of the Blue Jays — it was between those two — was because Mike Rizzo the [Nationals] general manager presented to me an idea of winning another World Series and that the team was capable of doing it. I just didn’t really feel that from Toronto, so I kind of just went with what my gut said.”
Papelbon acknowledged that sometimes, your gut can be wrong. He went to a Nationals team that he thought could contend, however when he showed up, it just wasn’t that way.
“No one got along with Matt Williams, the manager at the time. The team didn’t appear on the outside what it was on the inside,” Papelbon said. “Obviously, I think everybody knows that I had my issues with the way some of the players played ball on that team. It just didn’t work out, but not everything works out all the time.”
The 2007 World Series champion continued that he similarly chose to go to Philly (via free agency) with aspirations of World Series contention. That, too, did not work out.
“I honestly thought when I went to Philly that I would win two more World Series. I get there and … 15, 20, and 22 games out of first my first three years and I was like, ‘What is going on?,'” Papelbon said. “I think I made a comment in the paper that ‘I didn’t really come here for this,’ and of course, the Philly fans didn’t like that. Phillies fans are a little bit different. I thought I was pretty blunt, pretty honest to the media, and even nowadays doing media. It didn’t just really unfold the way I thought it would in Philly.”
Jonathan Papelbon was disappointed with how his Phillies tenure went.
The right-handed pitcher went on to say in the interview that things started to spiral for the Phillies, with Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard all seeing limited action due to injuries.
“All your horses are in the stable and not out on the field,” he said. “I think one year we had one All-Star guy and I was the guy. I was the one lone All-Star player for the Phillies. I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy. There should be four or five of us.'”
Papelbon, along with Mo Vaughn and Kevin Youkilis, joined NESN in mid-March as once-per-week in-studio (albeit virtual) contributors to NESN’s Red Sox coverage.
Had Papelbon chosen to Blue Jays instead of the Nationals, the Phillies-Pivetta era would have never happened. Coincidentally, the Phillies traded Pivetta to Papelbon’s first team in the Red Sox last summer.
Who knows, had Pivetta never been traded to the Phillies six years ago, he could be throwing shutouts against them right now for the Nationals. So, we can at least thank Papelbon for that.