Do trade rumors have a negative effect on a player's performance? One might be inclined to make this assertion with Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. Since being mentioned by ESPN's Buster Olney as a possible trade candidate for the Tigers, Papelbon has blown four saves in five chances. In spite of this rough stretch, he is still the best reliever on the trade market this summer.
(SIERA: Skills Interactive Earned Run Average; BABIP: Batting Average for Runs in Play.)
Stats via FanGraphs, updated June 28
Papelbon is in his second year with the Phillies. He will make $13 million each season 2013-2015. An additional vesting option for $13 million will go into effect for 2016 if Papelbon finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014-15. (Cot's)
Papelbon came up through the Boston Red Sox organization and was the team's closer during their 2007 World Series run. He has been one of the most consistent closers in baseball, saving at least 31 games in each of his seven full seasons in the big leagues. His fastball velocity and strikeout rate have declined this season, but he is still one of the premier ninth inning specialists in baseball.
Why he fits the Tigers
Unless Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman suddenly get placed on the block, Papelbon is the best relief pitcher who will be mentioned in any trade rumors this summer. His career numbers speak for themselves, as does his career 1.00 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 27 postseason innings. He would be a massive upgrade in the Tigers bullpen, allowing Joaquin Benoit to go back to the eighth inning role that he has excellent in over the past three seasons.
Why he doesn't fit the Tigers
One word: cost. This includes both the prospect(s) that the Tigers would have to send to Philadelphia for him and the $40+ million he is still owed over the next three-plus seasons. Prospects aside -- more on that below -- paying a closer $13 million per season isn't a luxury that the Tigers can afford with arbitration raises due to Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, and others. Add in the inevitable contract negotiations with Miguel Cabrera, and the odds of seeing Papelbon in the Olde English D just get longer.
How likely is a trade?
Unless Phillies GM Ruben Amaro suddenly decides that the organization needs to cut costs and go into rebuilding mode full throttle, Papelbon's asking price will likely be higher than the Tigers are willing to pay, and have reportedly expressed interest to the Phillies, according to a report this week from Jayson Stark. While I don't think the negotiations would center around Nick Castellanos, the fact that his name has even been mentioned tells you how the Phillies feel about Papelbon.
What the Tigers should give up
Unless the Phillies decide to pick up part of Papelbon's salary -- highly unlikely, given their insistence on getting as much out of the current aging core as possible -- the Tigers shouldn't give up anything more than a B-level prospect. Someone in the mold of Tyler Collins or Danry Vasquez could feasibly get a deal done if the Phillies change their tune.
Team blog thoughts
Liz Roscher of The Good Phight told MLB Daily Dish:
Both (Cliff) Lee and Papelbon have a fair amount left on their contracts, but they both happen to be very, very good at what they do. It's not like they're trying to move Ryan Howard, here. They're owed a lot, but they could actually be worth it.
So unlike Howard, teams want Lee and Paps and they'd be willing to pay for them. I think the Philies can eat enough on both contracts to get them down to a reasonable amount for trade partners and still get a decent return.
Cormican of The Good Phight told us:
I don't think many Phillies fans would be sad to see Papelbon go. Personality wise, he's an annoying half-wit who couldn't add2+2 if you spotted him f-o-u. In baseball terms, he's a good, reliable reliever, in spite of his recent struggles, but he's seen a dip in his K rates that makes him very expendable. Financially, he frees up a lot of budget to be used to resign Utley, Chooch or a Free Agent. Any discussions should begin and end with Castellanos or Garcia.