The Philadelphia Phillies‘ window for competing for the World Series titles is over. The Phillies need to begin a complete rebuild, starting with trading away their remaining star players with value. Trading away expensive veterans does two things for the Phillies; it removes some salary of off their payroll, and it could potentially get them some prospects to improve their very weak farm system. The main problem the Phillies are facing is that their general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., won’t accept that he needs to start the rebuilding process. Amaro insists that the Phillies are just a few additions away from competing.
If Amaro does decide to do the right thing and rebuild, the first thing he should do is try to trade his closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Keeping Papelbon around makes no sense for the Phillies for a variety of reasons. The Phillies aren’t going to be competing anytime soon; the last thing an aging team with limited talent needs is to have a dominant closer taking up a huge chuck of their payroll. Amaro made the mistake of giving a closer a huge four-year, $50 million contract, and he has to pay Papelbon $13 million annually until at least 2015, unless he is traded before then.
Papelbon isn’t as dominant as he once was. In 2013, his FIP of 3.05 was the highest it has been since 2010. His 8.32 K/9 in 2013 was the lowest he has ever had in his career. Papelbon’s peripheral numbers suggest that his 2014 season will be much less successful than his 2013 season.
Even if the Phillies decide to put Papelbon on the trading block, they may have issues finding a suitor for him. Not many teams have the budget to pay their closer $13 million per year to pitch 60-75 innings. Closers just aren’t worth anything near that amount of money. If the Phillies are willing to eat a large chunk of his contract, they may be able to move him. The less money the team receiving Papelbon has to pay, the better value the Phillies will get in return in terms of prospects.
Teams like the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees may be willing to acquire Papelbon. The Tigers’ ninth inning situation is murky, with Joaquin Benoit a free agent and no clear replacements internally. The Yankees’ long-time closer, and the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, has retired after a Hall of Fame career. David Robertson is currently set to replace Rivera, but he lacks closing experience. If the Yankees are one of the teams that still believes a pitcher needs a “closer’s mentality” to pitch the ninth inning, then they may be interested in getting a proven closer like Papelbon.