The Papelbon Deal
Lots and lots of reaction about Papelbon’s four-year, $50 million deal.
My first reaction? Wow. That is a ton of money for a closer, considering the Phillies just finished a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Brad Lidge. Lots of risk there, and knowing the way pitcher’s break down (there is a reason Pat Gillick hated going longer than three years on pitchers) it wouldn’t surprise me to see this deal haunt them down the road (although Papelbon has never had surgery or been on the DL).
My second reaction? The Phillies got the best closer on the market.
Let’s address a few things that popped into my head as I read comments on Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, etc., since Friday:
– I heard no complaints when reports broke early last week the Phillies had reached an agreement on a four-year, $44 million deal with Ryan Madson. The difference between Madson and Papelbon is $6 million over four seasons. That’s nothing. It’s not going to prevent the Phillies from keeping Jimmy Rollins or signing Cole Hamels to a contract extension. It’s $6 million. When it came time last offseason to sign Cliff Lee or not, Phillies president David Montgomery stopped looking at the total committment and started looking at the difference between the two offers, which was roughly $10 million over five seasons. Montgomery stopped thinking $120 million and started thinking $10 million more and we have Cliff Lee. He pulled the trigger. I think the same happened here. Instead of $50 million it was $6 million more and we have the best closer on the market. And Papelbon was the best closer on the market. He has put up better numbers than Madson (and almost everybody not named Mariano Rivera) since the beginning of the 2007 season, and Papelbon was closing the entire time in the American League East. Those are some high leverage situations. Like Roy Halladay, Papelbon should find life a little better in the National League East.
– If you think four years, $44 million or four years, $50 million is too much for any closer, then what was the alternative? Francisco Rodriguez? Joe Nathan, who had Tommy John surgery and turns 37 later this month? Ruben Amaro Jr. thinks he might have future closers in Phillippe Aumont or Justin De Fratus, but they’re not ready right now. And the Phillies are trying to win now. It would be too much of a gamble with Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels in the rotation. I understand it’s a lot of money for a guy that’s only going to pitch 60-70 innings every season, but those innings are important. Dallas Green once told me the closer might be the most important spot on the roster in today’s game because nothing is more demoralizing than blowing a ninth-inning lead. Sure, the Phillies survived Lidge’s disastrous 2009, but I’m not sure Phillies fans want to take that roller coaster ride again. I’m not sure the players want that again, either.
– One thing I really liked about Madson is that he seemed to be a great mentor to the younger pitchers in the bullpen. I’m not sure if Papelbon can fill that role or not, but it seems to me this bullpen is missing a good veteran presence. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Phillies bring back Lidge on a one-year deal, or somebody else who can help Mike Stutes, Antonio Bastardo, David Herndon, De Fratus, Aumont, Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery, etc., learn on the job.
– As soon as the season ended Amaro said he wanted a veteran closer for the bullpen. He budgeted for this. My only question now is how much left does he have to spend? So far he hasn’t addressed the offense, which he stressed in his postseason news conference. If the Phillies sign Jimmy Rollins and Michael Cuddyer, I think fans will be happy with that. If they only sign one, people naturally are going to wonder if that’s enough.
– I remember my first few years on the beat when fans were ripping the Phillies for not spending or doing enough. Now some are upset because they’re spending too much. Sometimes you have to take a risk. Is there a chance the move backfires? Oh, absolutely. There’s definitely a chance of that. But if I’m Amaro I’m not comfortable having Halladay, Lee and Hamels hand the ball to K-Rod, Nathan or a youngster the next season or two. And the first couple years of this deal are the most important while Halladay, Lee and Hamels are closer to their primes. Keep in mind Hamels becomes a free agent following next season, too. This could be the final season of the Big Three. You don’t want to waste a bunch of their wins with an unreliable closer.