Phillies Interested in Trading Jonathan Papelbon

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted the news last night:

Such a trade would be for a modicum of salary relief more than anything else, as Papelbon has gotten the results GM Ruben Amaro expected when he signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract after the 2011 season. In two seasons with the Phillies, Papelbon has posted an aggregate 2.67 ERA in 131.2 innings with 149 strikeouts and 27 unintentional walks. He is still owed $13 million in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and his 2016 option vests at an additional $13 million if he finishes 55 games in 2015, or combines for 100 games finished in 2014-15.

As a team still quite far away from being legitimately considered a contender, though, the Phillies have little use for Papelbon and even they have identified some depressing trends with the right-hander. Papelbon’s strikeout rate plummeted to a career-low 22 percent last season, following two seasons in which he finished at 34 and 32 percent. His average fastball velocity declined from 95 MPH in 2011 to 93.8 in 2012 and 92.0 last season. He just turned 33 years old, so that velocity is unlikely to be recovered. One other negative, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports — apparently, Papelbon isn’t well-liked in the Phillies’ clubhouse:

When we examined Papelbon in the summer, we noticed he was having trouble generating swings and misses on pitches up in the strike zone, but it was hard to pick out of the noise created by fluky BABIP luck:

Papelbon is enjoying a .227 BABIP overall, so it is difficult to observe the ill effects of his declining fastball velocity as his luck on balls in play is creating noise. For example, on those fastballs up in the zone, hitters overall have posted a .139 wOBA against him this year compared to .189 last year. However, hitters have swung and missed at those pitches ten percent less often.

A majority of Papelbon’s success this year is illusory. When his BABIP returns to his career average .274, or closer to .300 where it has been in recent years, he will be increasingly unreliable in high-leverage situations unless he is able to recapture most or all of his ability to miss bats. More balls in play plus a higher rate of contact means more hits and consequently more runs.

Papelbon has no-trade protection which allows him to select 12 teams to which he will approve a trade. The list of 12 teams is not known, other than that the Red Sox are on there, but their closer needs are currently met with Koji Uehara. That said, what could the Phillies get in return for Papelbon?

On Monday, the Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson to the Athletics for former prospect infielder Jemile Weeks. Johnson, now 30 years old, is expected to approach a salary close to $10 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility. After a solid showing in 2011, Weeks struggled to adjust in 2012 and spent nearly the entire 2013 season with Triple-A Sacramento. Weeks turns 27 years old next month.

In December 2011, the Athletics traded then-closer Andrew Bailey along with platoon outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox for two non-prospect low-level Minor Leaguers (Miles Head and Raul Alcantara) and outfielder Josh Reddick. Reddick struggled to find playing time with the Red Sox but broke out for a 5 WAR season in his first season with the Athletics in 2012.

Those two deals represent the upper end of the possible returns, however, because free agency is still flush with relief options — Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, John Axford, Fernando Rodney, Chris Perez, and Jose Veras are still available. Eating $15-20 million of Papelbon’s remaining salary would make him very attractive to teams still in need of a quality closer, especially if the Phillies don’t burst into negotiations demanding a top-ten prospect. The Phillies could wait for a few more closers to fall off the board and take advantage of scarcity among teams reticent to take a gamble on the likes of Perez and Veras.

Barring an unforeseen blockbuster move or two, the Phillies aren’t going to be very competitive in 2014. As such, Papelbon is simply dead weight. Shedding even $5 million of his remaining salary and bringing in a couple of Minor Leaguers who have the potential, however small, to contribute positively to future teams is a worthwhile endeavor and puts the Phillies in a better position to compete in 2015 and beyond.

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16 comments

  1. hk

    December 07, 2013 09:05 AM

    Where are all of those who supported RAJ and this signing two short years ago? Kudos to the current GM for apparently realizing how stupid the GM was in November 2011 for signing Papelbon for 4 or 5 years at $12.5M+ per year (and squandering a 1st round pick in the process).

  2. The Howling Fantods

    December 07, 2013 10:00 AM

    Losing that draft pick is probably the very worst thing Amaro has done here, and that’s saying a lot. If he had waited just one week and still offered the same contract, that pick would not have been lost, because of the new collective bargaining agreement. You can attempt to justify some of his worst trades if you really want to, but there is no defense for this. Inexcusable.

  3. hk

    December 07, 2013 10:55 AM

    THW,

    So many from which to choose…I still have the Cliff Lee to Seattle trade as the worst thing he’s done, with the Howard extension and the Papelbon signing fighting for the silver medal.

  4. VoteForDelmon

    December 07, 2013 01:04 PM

    Penciling in Delmon Young as the starting RF was a pretty good one too.

  5. sweatingisnormal

    December 07, 2013 03:33 PM

    Well, Philly was picked to win the east & in serious running to win it all in 2012 by more than a few prognosticators (incl me)….the drop off was swift and somewhat unpredictable – it did seem like the team could use a shut down closer at the time?

  6. Pencilfish

    December 07, 2013 06:15 PM

    What’s important is that Papelbon cost the 30th pick (I believe the Phillies had that pick in the 2012 draft). He didn’t cost a top 10 pick. That’s more important than the round that was lost. Trading Papelbon for just organizational depth is insane. I think he would want someone in return that can help right away. RAJ obviously believes the Phillies are not too far away from contending. Why re-sign Utley and Ruiz then? There are some glaring holes in the team, but there are still quite a few top-tier FA (Choo, Santana, Jimenez and Garza) out there. If RAJ is patient, maybe he can get one (or more) of these guys later this winter. He certainly has the budget to do that.

  7. Frank

    December 07, 2013 08:18 PM

    Nothing was worse than the Howard extension……nothing.

  8. Larry

    December 07, 2013 09:32 PM

    The Shane Victorino trade was a disgrace. In the 2nd half of the season this year he had the 2nd highest WAR in the AL next to Mike Trout. He had a great regular season and a great 1st round in the playoffs against the Rays. I think he was player of the game 3 times in the post season this year. He gave the knockout blow to Detroit in game 6, then another 4 RBIs against the Cards in game 6 to knock them out of the World Series. On that same day, he received his 4th Gold Glove as he is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Do you think the crappy defense in the outfield felt that loss this year? I think so. He may have already been worth his whole 3 year 39 mil contract in his 1st season with the Sox.

  9. Larry

    December 07, 2013 09:34 PM

    Regarding Papelbon- he is only 33 years old, which is too young for this team. RAJ will look for someone 35 years of age or older.

  10. Ryan

    December 08, 2013 12:35 AM

    Delmon Young cost nothing and didn’t saddle us with any long term money, so it can’t compare to any of these other moves. The Howard contract, while bad, wasn’t nearly as bad before he blew out his Achilles. I’d have to go with Papelbon and the Lee trade as a tie. Prospects are so predictably unpredictable, so I’d actually have to give the edge to the Papelbon deal. Why give up a draft pick when it only takes a week to not have to do so? Why go four years at that kind of money? That kind of money ought to have been good enough for a three year deal. Power pitchers don’t age well generally speaking…

  11. hk

    December 08, 2013 06:27 AM

    Frank,

    Howard only cost the team money and the opportunity cost of not having a better 1B. Since they have not exceeded the luxury tax limit during the first two years of the extension and don’t seem likely to be close to it this upcoming season, how much has it really hurt so far?

    The Lee trade cost the defending NL champions one of the best pitchers in baseball, who was only scheduled to make $9M. Further, had they kept Lee, they either (a) could have extended him during the season instead of re-signing him (and giving up a 1st round draft pick to do so) after the 2010 season or (b) received a compensatory pick following Lee’s departure through free agency. Finally, if they hadn’t traded Lee to Seattle, they might not have traded for Oswalt during the 2010 season.

  12. hk

    December 08, 2013 07:11 AM

    Larry,

    While I wanted the team to hold onto Shane in 2012 and make him a qualifying offer / try to re-sign him following the season, I don’t think the decision to trade him during a lost 2012 season comes close to the other bad moves listed in this thread. Since trading Shane did not prevent the team from re-signing him, one could make the argument that the real bad decision concerning Shane was not that they traded him, it was that they didn’t bring him back last off-season and instead went with Delmon Young as a starter in the OF.

  13. Larry

    December 08, 2013 08:23 AM

    HK,

    That’s a fair point, but it would have also put a bad taste in Shane’s mouth had he been traded and may have not taken a home town discount during the last offseason. We could have gotten him for a 3 year 11 mil per had he stayed.

    I guess you could also say that the Phils should have traded Utley by the deadline then resigned him this offseason as well. I’m not sure we get the same deal for Utley that we did unless he was in on what the Phillies were planning to do. Still that’s a lot to ask of a player to move for a half of a season on another team and stay loyal to the Phils this offseason.

    Pencilfish,

    You make a great point. If you are spending so much money right now on mediocre players, why trade Paps right now for salary relief? RAJ is throwing money around like it’s nothing making Paps salary seem less than what it really is. This creates another hole. Had RAJ not resigned Chooch and Utley and not signed Byrd, trading Paps would make much more sense.

    Yes Paps is making too much money, but with the offseason moves, so are a bunch of others, with way too many years attached to contracts. I know people forget this, because he is overpaid, Paps has one of the best ERAs on the team and is actually useful. He would be more useful if they put him in more leverage situations besides save opportunities, but the coaches and managers don’t really understand that concept.

  14. hk

    December 08, 2013 09:21 AM

    Larry,

    That’s a good counter-point. However, I think that they could have sold Shane that they wanted him back for 2013 to 2015, but they traded him because they weren’t going anywhere in 2012, so they got a prospect and gave him a chance at the post-season.

  15. Larry

    December 08, 2013 09:58 AM

    HK,

    It rarely works out that way though. When Howard and Revere went down before the allstar break at 6 1/2 games out, we all knew the chances were slim to make the playoffs. So why not trade Utley for prospects, rebuild the farm, then resign Utley right now? Same concept HK, but again it’s asking a lot of the player.

    Just because a team is out of the race, you don’t trade a guy like Shane Victorino who is a legit 4 tool player with a possibility of being a 5 tool player (Power wise) if he exclusively bats from the right side.

    You basically have a roster of 1-2 tool players right now and that doesn’t correlate to a playoff team.

    How were the Phils so good in 2008 and the years around that time?……Because we had a bunch of guys in the lineup who were at least 3 tool players, ie Vic, Chase, Jroll, and Werth. Then you had the power pieces at 1st base and left field, while having defensive pieces at catcher and 3rd base. That was a team created for success and now it’s all gone with over double the payroll. This GM destroyed this franchise.

  16. hk

    December 08, 2013 05:49 PM

    Larry,

    I really think we are splitting hairs here. The bottom line is that, in July 2012, they made a mistake when they decided that they no longer wanted Shane, a then 31 year old OF. Whether they could have traded him and re-signed him after the season or they should have just extended him is immaterial. Instead of having Shane from 2013 to 2015, they gave 675 PA’s to Delmon Young and JMJ last year and will have Marlon Byrd get regular PA’s in 2014 and 2015.

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