Does Trading Papelbon Make Sense? It Just Might

Posted: December 11, 2013 in Uncategorized
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When Ruben Amaro signed All Star closer Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 year, $50 million contract following the 2011 season, the Philadelphia Phillies considered themselves contenders for a world championship. They were coming off a 102 win season and boasted one of the best starting rotations in baseball. Now, two years later, the Phillies have seen their win total decline from 102 to 81 in 2012 and 73 in 2013. That begs the question. If you’re not in contention for a championship (or at least to make the playoffs), do you really need a closer making $13 million a season.

The answer is no.

Are the Phillies wise enough to notice that it’s unlikely that they’ll be playing deep into October next season? The lineup, rife with (aging) talent, just doesn’t seem capable of overcoming the hurdles that reality has presented them. Couple this with the fact that Philadelphia doesn’t even appear to have the money to fill out their rotation, and it’s clear that someone needs to go to free up salary.

As it stands, Philadelphia’s rotation consists of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, and two players to be named later. Maybe Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who hasn’t pitched a meaningful inning in well over a year, can claim that fourth spot. Maybe not. Still, he and the cast of supporting characters including Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, and Adam Morgan just do not inspire enough confidence going forward; especially for a team with a $170+ million payroll. In order to fill these massive chasms in their rotation, the Phillies will need to free up money. That’s after spending $42 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd, of course.

That’s not to say that Papelbon isn’t still a good closer. He may not be what he once was. But, a contending team could do far worse than “Pap.” With the Phillies the last two seasons, the former Boston Red Sox star has gone 10-7, 2.67 with 67 saves. His impressive 149:29 K:BB ratio only serves as proof that Papelbon can still get it done. Yes, his strikeout numbers were down in 2013 (from 92 in 70 IP in 2012 to 57 in 61.2 IP in 2013). But, fatigue was certainly a significant factor in that plight. It seemed that Charlie Manuel would go to Papelbon sometimes no matter the situation and with no regards to whether or not the 33-year old was ready to perform that evening.

Papelbon led the league in games finished with 64 in 2012. The following year, he experienced the jet lag that so many pitchers do when they are overused for an entire season as he was by the Phillies’ former skipper. It would not boggle the mind to see the five time All Star return to form in 2014. The only question remains, will it be with the Phillies?

If Philadelphia is all in to contend, they would be wise to keep Papelbon and try to find starters the old fashioned way; by developing them or by digging into the bargain bin of free agency. The last thing that Philadelphia needs to do is trade Papelbon and use that money on a veteran stopgap like Bronson Arroyo. All that would do is promise more heartache to Philadelphia fans, who will have to watch Arroyo labor through 6 innings before turning it over to a bullpen rife with inexperience and without a closer.

If the Phillies plan on rebuilding (which it doesn’t appear they will ever fully embrace), then Papelbon is worthless to them and should be dealt. It’s all up to Amaro, in the end. As General Manager, he is the only one that can decide whether or not the veteran right hander is long for the City of Brotherly Love.

One thing is for sure, this exciting offseason of movers and shakers continues with no end in sight.

Elsewhere at the Winter Meetings

– The Seattle Mariners continued their banner offseason. Just a week after they inked 2B Robinson Cano to a 10 year, $240 million contract, the Mariners have inked former Milwaukee OF/1B Corey Hart to a one year, $6 million deal. The contract includes incentives that could make the deal worth as much as $13 million.

– Seattle also dealt RHP Carter Capps to the Florida Marlins for 1B Logan Morrison. The move, along with Hart’s signing and the presence of young Justin Smoak, begs the question; just how many 1B does Jack Zduriencik think one team can start in a given game?

– The Pittsburgh Pirates also made noise today, announcing that they have resigned RHP Charlie Morton to a 3 year, $21 million contract. Morton went 7-4, 3.26 in 2013.

– Pittsburgh also announced that they boosted their rotation depth even more by signing veteran RHP Edinson Volquez to a one year, $5 million deal.

– Longtime utility infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. announced his retirement today at the age of 37. The veteran played for the Dodgers each of the last two seasons and has accepted a position with the Los Angeles broadcast team.

– The Washington Nationals moved to improve their bullpen by acquiring LHP Jerry Blevins from the Oakland Athletics for minor leaguer Billy Burns.

– San Diego has traded RHP Anthony Bass to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later or cash.

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