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Closer Jonathan Papelbon caused a stir last night after telling the media that the Phillies need changes “from top to bottom” and that he doesn’t want to be in Philadelphia if he is “going to have to put up with this year after year”. The comments haven’t really gone over well with many Phillies fans and those who cover the team. It does seem like his reputation precedes him, which has prevented some from objectively critiquing his comments.
Here are the choice quotes in full, via Todd Zolecki:
Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million contract in November 2011, but he has known mostly losing at this point in Philadelphia. The Phillies returned home after a 12-4 loss to the Tigers riding an eight-game losing streak and a season-high seven games under .500.
“I definitely didn’t come here for this,” he said.
Papelbon carries an influential presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse as the team’s closer, a nine-year veteran and World Series champion. Asked what he thought about the direction the organization is headed, he sighed.
“Oh, man,” he said. “We could be here all day.”
So then what about this team’s ability to turn things around, if not this season, then next season?
“It’s going to take, in my opinion, a lot,” he said. “And in my opinion, I think it’s going to have to be something very similar to what the Red Sox went through a couple years ago. From top to bottom.”
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., declined comment.
Papelbon saw the 2011 Red Sox fail in a similar way. After making the playoffs three consecutive seasons from 2007-09, the Red Sox had floundered towards the end of the 2011 season, going 7-20 in September and missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Controversies were rampant — who can forget the beer and fried chicken story? After the 2011 season, the Red Sox went in a different direction, waving goodbye to GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona. They also let Papelbon walk into free agency along with other organizational stalwarts, including Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek (both retired).
There are a lot of similarities between the 2011 Red Sox and 2013 Phillies. If anyone can legitimately comment on the state of the team, it’s Papelbon. In his above comments, he actually showed admirable restraint, as he could have gone into vivid detail about all the things the team has done wrong. And if you read only the quote without attribution, it could have come from anyone — an anonymous front office source or a writer, for instance.
Papelbon is simply saying that the Phillies need to bring in some new leadership, and he’s not wrong. Many pundits and fans have been calling for exactly that all season long, and definitely over the past week as the Phillies went 1-8 on a nine-game road trip. Manager Charlie Manuel‘s contract is up after the season and it is assumed third base coach Ryne Sandberg will end up being promoted. Under Sandberg, or an as yet unknown future manager, the Phillies could bring in a new coaching staff as well. Whether a coaching staff shuffle actually does anything remains up for debate, but suggesting it could be helpful is not farfetched.
As for the “bottom”, he is correct again: the Phillies do need to get rid of some players: Michael Young, Delmon Young, Carlos Ruiz, and that’s just to start. Trades involving Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, and Jimmy Rollins should be considered. Moving Ryan Howard‘s contract should be broached (if the Angels could move Vernon Wells, the Phillies can move Howard). Once again, this is something that has been a common topic of conversation among fans and writers. Papelbon is only saying what we have all been saying for months.
More from Papelbon:
Asked after the game if he wants to be traded, Papelbon said, “No, I would like to stay here. But if I’m going to have to put up with this year after year, then no, I don’t want to be here. Why would you? Why would anybody?”
The Phillies are open to trading Papelbon, although Amaro does not have an option to replace him internally. But there does not seem to be much interest in him at the moment. Joaquin Benoit has been effective closing for the Tigers, and Koji Uehara has been even more impressive closing games for the Red Sox.
Papelbon is 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA and 20 saves in 25 opportunities.
“If I don’t do my job right, they’re going to find somebody else,” he said. “How is that different than the rest of the organization?”
The “this” in “put up with this”, I assume, refers to the Phillies’ embarrassing level of play in their recently-completed road trip. As you can see here, the Phillies played Little League-level baseball and were completely outclassed by the Mets, Cardinals, and Tigers. If you’re a veteran player, signed to the richest deal ever given to a player at your position, you do not want to be part of a team that plays more like a .300 team than a .600 team. Papelbon will be 33 years old when the 2014 season starts and he will enter the third year of his four-year deal. He has a limited time left as a productive reliever. Not a soul on the planet would opt to spend that limited time on a team like the Astros when one could be contributing to a championship-caliber team.
It is understandable that a 1-8 road trip has left fans feeling frustrated. Papelbon blew five saves in a calendar month between June 17 and July 14. He is showing signs of decline, with markedly lower velocity and a dramatic decline in strikeouts. He has a reputation as a loudmouth without the normal set of social graces. None of that is reason to discount his entirely legitimate criticism of the organization as they approach the July 31 trade deadline.