When Tiger Woods was dominating the PGA tour pre-scandal days, the question in the office before every major was: “Are you taking Tiger or the field?”
The field lost a lot.
The same question can be asked but with a different answer when the subject is Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. In this case, take the field of available free-agent relievers.
While Papelbon’s numbers look halfway decent, he is not doing what he’s paid to do, and that is to close out games on a reliable basis. Even in this weekend’s sweep of the Atlanta Braves, Papelbon blew another save on Saturday night. The Phillies needed a walk-off homer from Freddy Galvis to win that one.
Fortunately, manager Ryne Sandberg showed that he’s not a glutton for punishment by refusing to use Papelbon on Sunday in a save situation against the Braves Sunday. B.J. Rosenberg got the save instead. Since Rosenberg was 3-6 with a 4.52 ERA in Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year, he’s probably not a long-term solution.
Saturday’s blown save was the seventh of Papelbon’s forgettable season. While he is 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA, he has appeared in 55 games with only 25 saves. Last year, he appeared in 70 games with 38 saves and had a 2.44 ERA. Further evidence of his decline of his fastball are his strikeout-per-inning numbers. Last year, he struck out 92 in 70 innings. This year, it’s 50 in 55.2. Not good.
If the Phillies even hope to compete for a wild card spot in 2014, they need a more reliable option at the back end of their bullpen, someone they can start out using in the seventh and eighth inning with the ability to close when needed. There are plenty of options available, and just a couple of possible targets are Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit.
Balfour has 37 saves and 62 strikeouts in 55.2 innings for the small-market Oakland Athletics; Benoit has just 17 saves for the Detroit Tigers, but he’s no longer being used in most save situations as Bruce Rondon has assumed that role. He’s also got a 4-1 record and a 2.17 ERA in the hitter-friendly AL.
If the Phillies open their checkbook, there are plenty of available pitchers who can do what Papelbon is not doing now.