A Bullpen Without Papelbon

The news is starting to come out: Jonathan Papelbon is on the block, and the Phillies want to move him. Whether they’re able to is one question, whether they¬†should is a question answered before Pap even signed with the Phillies.

Because the contract never should’ve existed. That’s what I’m getting at. Bad deal. Bad.

But reality is reality, and Papelbon is still owed at least $26 million through 2015, with a 2016 option lingering. It makes sense to move him from a financial standpoint, even if the club has to absorb some of what’s left. It also makes sense to move him from a personnel standpoint, because this team can (and should) handle the 2014 season without the ninth inning role being a foregone conclusion.

Let’s consider Papelbon’s movement without regard for the return (but presuming none are immediate Major League inserts), assuming a 50 percent contract eat. That frees up $6.5 million for ’13 and a spot in the bullpen.

Here’s the motley crew as currently assembled and their 2013 numbers, sans Papelbon following his departure (with age on Opening Day 2014):

  • Mike Adams (35): 25 IP, 23 K, 11 uIBB; serious injury concerns dampen what would otherwise be a solid, dependable arm
  • Antonio Bastardo (28): 42.2 IP, 47 K, 20 uIBB; great slider, somewhat tenuous FB velocity, intermittent command problems
  • Justin De Fratus (26): 46.2 IP, 42 K, 22 uIBB; velo isn’t a problem, but FB gets touched up. Slider held hitters to a .620 OPS
  • Jake Diekman (27): 38.1 IP, 41 K, 14 uIBB; potential relief star. Absolute death against LHB (.368 OPS), with stuff to handle RHB better
  • Brad Lincoln (28): 31.2 IP, 25 K, 22 uIBB; Lottery ticket. Former 4th overall pick, sits 93-94 with hard curve and split.
  • Ethan Martin (24): 40 IP, 47 K, 24 uIBB; 11 K in 7 relief innings, appearing as a RP may mitigate control issues. Plus stuff.

Also in the mix:

There’s a lot there. Some of it isn’t pretty, but that’s a bunch of extra arms currently on the 40-man. It’s also pending Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez’s final destination.

The bullpen would be immediately worse off without Papelbon, let’s just get that out there. He is declining, yes, but he still produced at a good-to-very-good level in 2013. Removing him immediately takes the bullpen down a notch or two – again, potential return ignored – but the flexibility of higher-leverage roles becoming open for competition, in addition to the freed money, mitigate that loss.

The team has relievers. Bastardo, Diekman, and a healthy Adams are three effective pitchers, even if the “elite” label doesn’t necessarily apply to any of them right now. Behind those anchoring three, there’s uncertainty in the depth that will probably result in the signing of one additional, previously established Major League reliever, for better or worse. It would seem adding a starter would be a more pressing need, even if Papelbon is shipped out.

It’s nearly assured that a return for Papelbon would be slight, given his apparent decline and stack of money owed. But the ripple effects within the club of such a move seem to point toward making dealing him a worthwhile move just the same.

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17 comments

  1. hk

    December 11, 2013 05:02 PM

    When you talk about 50% salary relief for a player with a vesting option that looks likely to vest, are you suggesting that the Phils would pay $13M (50% for the two guaranteed years) or $19.5M (50% for the last 3 years)? If the return is slight and they have to pay $19.5M just to get relief from the remainder of his salary, aren’t they better off just keeping him?

  2. NickFromGermantown

    December 11, 2013 06:28 PM

    And throw more good money after bad? Papelbon is going to likely be divisive within the clubhouse soon enough. Whatever can be salvaged at this point needs to as his marginal utility is questionable for the team.

    What ever happened to the GGM (Good Guy Metric), formerly the Phillies’ favorite stat? Even if the Phillies made bad deals, they at least always used to sign good people who you felt bad to root against. That seems to have gone by the wayside with the likes of Jonathan Papelbon, Delmon Young, and Carlos Zambrano.

  3. mainerob

    December 11, 2013 06:42 PM

    I know that his effectiveness sample size is rather limited (September), but I would flip BJ Rosenberg out of the “Also in the Mix” category and into the motley crew. The light bulb seemed to brighten in the same manner is that of Diekman, only later in the season. Dare I say, closer material with his velocity and more effective secondary pitches?

  4. hk

    December 11, 2013 06:58 PM

    “And throw more good money after bad?”

    Option 1: They pay $19.5M for him to go away and they have to replace him in the bullpen.

    Option 2: They plan to pay $26M for him to pitch here for 2 more years and if he pitches well enough to finish enough games that the option vests, they pay $39M for him to pitch here for 3 more years. In this scenario, they also have the ability to trade him at any point over the next few years when the obligation to him is reduced.

    Despite the reduced velocity, he still had the 2nd best SIERA on the team (3rd if you include John McDonald). If the team is not going near the luxury tax limit and the choices are to pay $6.5M per year for him to go away or $13M per year for him to stay, I’d rather have him stay. Now, if they can get a quality prospect for him while paying 50% of his salary, that’s a different story.

  5. Steve

    December 11, 2013 09:32 PM

    Paul, the time to trade a Closer is not the offseason but June/July when injuries and surprise teams are looking to make a run and desperate for a closer. They should have traded him in June before he blew4 saves in quick fashion. As you point out, it’s not as if they have an over abundance of RP’s. Maybe he’ll find the fountain of youth and be worth something in June. If not, you can always make your trade anytime as you are advocating 6 mil and a bag of balls. That’s not a real “got to make that trade”call.

  6. Greg

    December 11, 2013 09:45 PM

    I think the biggest indictment against RAJ HAS to be the fact that he has so many untradable contracts on his roster. Howard, Paplebon, and oh, how about the contracts HE JUST SIGNED for Ruiz and Byrd. It’s like he’s auditioning for the Mets GM job in 1995. I’m a little shocked he didn’t unload the system for Trumbo, since he hits HRs and gets RBIs and gets on base less than 30% of the time, but I guess we can be glad that he’s too young for RAJ.

  7. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    December 12, 2013 12:12 AM

    One thing that works in the Phillies’ favor is that the Yankees will need a closer to replace Rivera. Yes, they have a good internal replacement option in Dave Robertson, but they are a team that is used to having an elite closer, and they have the payroll space.

    For fun my Yankees fan friend, my Reds fan friend and I worked out a three-way trade that involved Brandon Phillips, Papelbon, Domonic Brown, the Yankees top prospect (a catcher) Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova, Cesar Hernandez, and Ardolis Chapman. (Phillies get Nova, Chapman and the catching prospect, Reds get Hernandez and Gardner, Yankees get Brown, Papelbon and Phillips.) I think we all agreed it was a fair exchange (the Reds seem to have soured on Phillips and Chapman). Now we just need to get appointed GMs of our respective teams.

  8. hk

    December 12, 2013 06:41 AM

    ACA,

    You’ve got my vote to be GM if you can get Nova, Chapman and Gary Sanchez for Brown, Papelbon and Hernandez. Nova > Brown, Chapman >> Papelbon and Sanchez > Hernandez.

  9. Scott G

    December 12, 2013 08:49 AM

    Steve,

    I’m not saying a disagree with you, but don’t you think there’s some credence to the offseason being a good time as well?

    He’s currently healthy. He could get injured during the season and become untradeable.

    Some teams who could use a closer fall out of contention by June/July thus reducing the market.

    Signing a name like Papelbon could boost ticket sales beginning immediately.

  10. Phillie697

    December 12, 2013 01:07 PM

    This contract isn’t that old. Where are all the people who defended the Paps signing?

  11. Phillie697

    December 12, 2013 01:12 PM

    @Greg,

    “I think the biggest indictment against RAJ HAS to be the fact that he has so many untradable contracts on his roster.”

    This is 2013. Where have you been? I think this was said the moment Ryan Howard signed his extension (yes, that ONE contract gets RAJ that label right off the bad, seeing as how it was, and still is, the Worst-MLB-Contract-Ever.

  12. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    December 12, 2013 01:26 PM

    @HK

    Well, my Reds fan friend is seriously down on Chapman, which is why he said he would agree to it. I think Chapman is a little like Brown, in that the local fan base is down on him because he refuses to start. I’m not sure Nova is better than Brown, though–he’s shown a ton of inconsistency and was in AAA for part of last year (Nova, that is, although the same sentence could describe Brown in 2012). But he’s got a ton of upside.

    Of course, it’s all just silly talk. I saw on MLB Traderumors that Phillips actually scotched a straight trade for Gardner by demanding that his contract be reopened.

  13. hk

    December 12, 2013 01:39 PM

    ACA,

    Of course it’s all silly talk. Plus, the Phils don’t need Nova now that Fausto Carmona’s in town.

  14. Phillie697

    December 12, 2013 02:39 PM

    @hk,

    The problem is, do we REALLY know how hold Fausto *cough* Roberto Hernandez is?

  15. Phillie697

    December 12, 2013 02:39 PM

    that is suppose to say “old”

  16. Ginner207

    December 12, 2013 02:43 PM

    I mean, if you get rid of Papelbon and sign another starter, Kendrick would get moved to the bullpen as a long man/spot starter. Then you have guys like Martin, Bastardo, Aumont if he makes the club, Diekman with lefties and De Fratus to handle those high pressure end of the game situations since I think all those guys are back of the bullpen types.

    Reminds me a lot of the Braves pen from a few years ago when O’flaherty, kimbrel and ventors came out of no where.

  17. Josh G

    December 14, 2013 12:26 AM

    I agree that the contract never should have been made, but are you saying that Pap is barely worth 50% of the contract? Cause I think he’d easily get better than Joe Nathan’s deal. Pap has been a “Big Time Closer” ™ like Nathan for a long time but is younger, so he has to get more years!

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