Can Phillies realistically deal Papelbon?
Fox's Ken Rosenthal says the Phillies are shopping their expensive closer, but that is easier said than done, given his flaws.
'SOURCES: Phillies trying to trade Papelbon."
That's from the Twitter feed of Ken Rosenthal, foxsports.com's leading baseball writer and arguably the reporter in the sport who breaks the most news on a regular basis. Rosenthal was the first to float out the idea of the Phillies' trading Cliff Lee in order to acquire Roy Halladay 4 years ago this month.
With all due respect to Rosenthal - and perhaps there is a team out there, given that it takes only one - the Phillies might be trying to trade Jonathan Papelbon, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. probably would have just as much luck securing a date with Beyonce or Blake Lively.
Nothing is impossible, but trading a closer with a fat contract and an attitude problem is more difficult than getting Kate Upton to escort your kid to the prom.
There are plenty of reasons the Phillies would want to trade Papelbon. He is owed $26 million over the next two seasons; trading him away would free up salary.
He is declining as a major league pitcher. Among regular major league closers, only Baltimore's Jim Johnson, Tampa's Fernando Rodney and the White Sox's Addison Reed had more blown saves than Papelbon's seven in 2013.
Papelbon, 33, allowed a career-high 59 hits in 61 2/3 innings last season, the fewest innings he's pitched in a season since 2007.
Papelbon is striking out fewer batters each season. In his last year with Boston, in 2011, Papelbon struck out 87 batters in 64 1/3 innings. In his first season with the Phillies, 2012, Papelbon struck out 92 batters in 70 innings. This season, he struck out a career-low 57 in 61 2/3 innings. Papelbon's strikeout rate (strikeouts per nine innings) has gone from 12.17 to 11.83 to 8.32 in the same time frame. His 8.32 strikeout rate this season was a career low.
Papelbon has been striking out fewer batters, in part, because he no longer has the same zip on his fastball. In his last season with Boston, Papelbon's average fastball clocked in at 95 mph, according to fangraphs.com. In 2012, his average fastball was 93.8 mph; last season, it was 92 mph, not surprisingly, also a career low.
And then there's his volatile clubhouse personality.
When things were going bad for former Phillies closer Brad Lidge in the 2009 season - and in his struggles in the seasons that followed, too - the World Series hero continued to hold his head high, say the right things and put the blame on himself, and no one else, for costing the team wins.
When things went bad for the Phillies last season, Papelbon didn't exactly come off as a team-first guy.
"I definitely didn't come here for this," Papelbon told MLB.com after the Phillies saw their losing streak climb to eight games following a sweep in Detroit.
Papelbon went on to say it would "take a lot," an organizational upheaval from "top to bottom" not unlike his former Red Sox team for the Phillies to contend again.
Two winters ago, Papelbon signed a 4-year, $50 million contract, the largest for a reliever in major league history. When he made those comments last summer, they were not very popular in greater Philadelphia. Perhaps it didn't help that the comments were coming from a closer in the midst of a 6-week period when he nearly had as many blown saves (six) as saves (seven).
Four days after the initial comments, Papelbon blew a save in a loss to the Giants and was asked whether he needed to clarify his words.
"I think they speak for themselves," Papelbon said. "Whether I blow a game or whether I save a game, whatever is happening within the organization, I feel like I'm honest and forthcoming, and I'm the same way after games like tonight. I accept things. I don't shy away from things . . . I go by facts and I stand by what I say. I don't feel like I said anything that was untrue."
On the penultimate day of the season, Amaro acknowleged he was "a little bit" concerned with Papelbon's velocity drop. But he said, from a personality standpoint, he had no issues with the outspoken closer.
"I don't have any problems with Papelbon," Amaro said. "He's a competitor. He wants to win . . . That's all any of us want to do. I don't have a problem with any of those quotes."
Of course, it does Amaro no good to say he has a problem with Papelbon and views him as a problem in the clubhouse. Because all that would do is make a nearly untradeable pitcher even more unattractive.
Unless the Phillies eat salary - they did before with Jim Thome, Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins - and find a trade partner, it would seem highly unlikely for them to trade Papelbon.
The Detroit Tigers, one of the only teams expecting to contend in 2014 that was pursuing a closer, signed veteran Joe Nathan on 2-year deal for around $20 million. And Detroit is one of the few teams that continue to invest big dollars in the closing position.
The Phillies owe Papelbon $13 million in each of the next two seasons (there's also a vesting option for 2016) That $13 million-per-year price tag is more than the combined salaries of the closers for the last four World Series winners ($12.76 million).
The Phillies paid Papelbon more money in 2013 (also $13 million) than the National League's top two teams, the Dodgers and Cardinals, spent, combined, on the four pitches who made the most appearances with their respected teams ($10.9 million).
The Phillies were not wise in signing Papelbon to his colossal contract and would surely like to get out from under it. But it might take a Christmas miracle to do so. He has a limited no-trade clause; he can select 12 teams to whom he would accept a trade.