For more than a year now, we have all expected the Philadelphia Phillies to trade Jonathan Papelbon. He's a closer on a bad team, which is an extravagance on par with wifi in an outhouse, and he makes $13 million a year. Of course he's on the trading block.
Even Papelbon himself is resigned to and excited about the opportunity, talking openly about wanting to join a contender and encouraging the Phillies to...well, take it away Jim Salisbury:
Papelbon at All Star press conference says it's time for Phillies "to (blank) or get off the pot." Re: trade— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN) July 13, 2015
Which, listen, if you really think about it is the worst metaphor Papelbon could have used if you think about what role he plays in it, and the fact that he really doesn't want the Phillies to get off the pot before handling their business because he's miserable and wants to play for a contender.
Anyway, getting up may just be what the Phillies are about to do, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick:
I'm getting no sense the #Phillies have any traction in a Papelbon deal. That $13M option for 2016 remains a sticking point.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 22, 2015
That vesting option becomes guaranteed once the closer finishes 15 more games (which he is definitely, barring injury, going to do). This morning, there are reports that the teams expected to be the biggest buyers at this deadline, the Cubs, Dodgers, and Blue Jays, are not engaged in negotiations to land him. And that's with the Blue Jays really, really needing bullpen help.
If the Phillies are not able to find a taker for Papelbon at the price they want to move him, and he's still in Philadelphia after July 31, people are going to call it a disaster. They're going to make fun of Ruben Amaro. That's fine, I guess. After all, Amaro is a lame duck GM and the impression that the Phillies are a joke at the moment is largely on his shoulders. When he leaves, presumably, the bad PR will follow him.
And really, if the Phillies don't move Papelbon at this deadline, it's not so bad (for the Phillies, I mean. It might actually make Papelbon himself snap). For one thing, no one is going to claim Papelbon off of waivers, so he'll still be available throughout August as well. For another, even if he finishes the year in Philadelphia and his option vests, the Phillies can still sell him this winter as an elite closer with a one-year deal.
Last winter, the Padres sent Cameron Maybin, Matt Wisler, prospect Jordan Paroubeck, a competitive balance draft pick, and Carlos Quentin (who was immediately waived) to the Padres for their closer, Craig Kimbrel, and still managed to force the Padres to take on Melvin Upton Jr. Now, admittedly, Kimbrel had at least three more years left on his deal, and he has and will be paid less than Papelbon in all but the last year of it. He's also a better pitcher than Papelbon. But the point is that closers are still valuable commodities, and that there have always, given enough time, been enough clubs willing to overpay for one, and perhaps they would be more willing to do so for a player to whom they're committed for only one season (especially if the Phillies are throwing in money).
It's still more likely than not that Papelbon gets dealt. After all, the Jays have a huge need. The Giants bullpen looks like a potential problem as well. And the Tigers, if they decide to go all in on 2015, have struggled to find relievers for years now. Someone, more likely than not, is going to bite. And, frankly, that's almost certainly what's best for the club as a whole. Just to be able to move on from this debacle and to tackle the next one presumably has some value as well.
But if not, history and, believe it or not, time are still on the Phillies' side. So too is the market this winter, where Papelbon will be, by far, the best reliever available with the exception of Darren O'Day. While clubs' needs may be more urgent at the moment, they may be inclined to pay a similar price this offseason when Papelbon is an oasis in a desert of mediocre bullpen arms. Indeed, no matter how much he and the Phillies want to part ways, the smart move may still be to stick together for just a little while longer.