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:
- Phillippe Aumont (25): 19.1 IP, 19 K, 12 uIBB
- Luis Garcia (27): 31.1 IP, 23 K, 23 uIBB
- Jeremy Horst (28): 26 IP, 21 K, 11 uIBB
- B.J. Rosenberg (28): 19.2 IP, 19 K, 8 uIBB
- Joe Savery (28): 20 IP, 14 K, 11 uIBB
- Michael Stutes (27): 17.2 IP, 9 K, 7 uIBB
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.