Jonathan Papelbon rumors last week had quite a few Tigers fans excited for life after Jose Valverde. It was barely even a rumor, to be fair. ESPN's Buster Olney simply noted Papelbon would bit a good fit for the Tigers. Then a few days later, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe listed the Tigers among three teams the Phillies believe are interested in Papelbon.
But anyone but Valverde, right?
Bryan Grosnick of Beyond the Box Score today took a closer look at Papelbon and the rumors surrounding him:
More than anything else, Papelbon's calling card is his reliability and durability. In a position where most closers have one or two good seasons, then fail, then perhaps recover, then perhaps fail, ad nauseum, Jonathan Papelbon is a Rivera-like picture of consistency. He's never had an injury severe enough to stop him from throwing 58 or more innings in the bigs. He's never had a full season where he's failed to save more than 30 games. While most closers are glass cannons, Jonathan Papelbon is, well, a regular cannon.
So, that sounds like something that would actually be useful in Detroit -- if you forget about the $13 million a year he'll be making for the next couple of seasons. But, wait! Is Papelbon actually worth what he's getting paid? He just might be.
Pinning Papelbon as a 5.2 WAR player over the next 2.5 years, and estimating the value of wins, especially in the playoffs, to teams ... Grosnick writes that the reliever may not be a money sink after all. For the right team anyway. For a team with closer issues that is expected to make the playoffs this year, that has a pretty good likelihood of being back during the next few years as well, well, Papelbon might be just what the doctor ordered.
Grosnick quickly wrote off any chance of the Phillies landing Nick Castellanos in the deal, but offers up an alternative:
Perhaps either Rick Porcello or, more likely, Drew Smyly could be the factor in a deal with the Tigers. Porcello has always had an FIP that belies a rough ERA, but this season he's striking out more hitters at the expense of launching more home runs. I'm not convinced the Tigers would want to give up a critical rotation piece, though, and that's where Smyly comes in.
I do not believe the Tigers are interested in trading Porcello -- they don't want to create a hole in the rotation -- and I certainly hope they are not interested in moving Smyly. (Grosnick, too, notes trading Smyly would probably be a bad idea.) But I can't exactly discount that possibility after all. With Porcello apparently having a home in the rotation and Scherzer signed for another year, the team may see Smyly as an asset to move. I'd rather see whether he can help shore up late innings issues, but we'll see.
Let's get back to the cost issue for one moment though. Is it possible for Papelbon to produce a surplus value for Detroit -- that is, his value calculated by WAR and the free agent cost of a win is more than his salary? Yes. But do you trade a 5 WAR player who costs league minimum for a 5 WAR player who costs a lot more? No.
So, to me, it's a lot more palatable for the Tigers to continue seeking solutions elsewhere -- maybe exhaust the internal options -- than to trade away a young starter. A lesser prospect than Castellanos? Now we're talking.
So, for the sake of argument, let me ask you: If the Tigers were to trade something for Papelbon, who do you think it should be?