According to a report that came out very early this morning, the Milwaukee Brewers have engaged in “serious talks” with the Philadelphia Phillies about aqcuiring closer Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon has a no trade clause in his contract, and the Brewers are on it. He has said previously that he would waive his no trade clause to be moved to a contending team.
Papelbon had a strong season for Philadelphia last year, posting a 2.04 ERA (2.53 FIP) in 66.1 innnings for the Phillies in 2014, nailing down 39 saves in 43 chances. Though his velocity has fallen in recent years and his strikeout numbers have dipped, he still posted a strong 4.20 strikeout to walk ratio in 2014. His ERA has been between 29 and 83% better than league average over the past four seasons, and he’s posted strong FIP numbers to match. His WHIP in 2014 was a career low 0.905, and he gave up only two home runs in 66 appearances. He was valued at 2.6 WAR last season (as a reliever!), which would’ve tied Wily Peralta for the best mark on the Brewers. The Phillies have already committed to beginning the rebuild process, trading away three other MLB players this offseason, and there is little need for an All-Star closer on a team that isn’t looking to contend until 2018.
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Papelbon doesn’t come without his drawbacks, however. He’s due $13 mil in 2015, the final guaranteed year of the four year contract he signed with the Phillies in 2012. While the Brewers were able to shed $9 mil in payroll when they shipped Yovani Gallardo to Texas, it doesn’t seem likely that the Brewers would bring Papelbon in unless the Phillies picked up some of the money. Papelbon also has a vesting option in his contract that will kick in if he finishes 48 games in 2015. Since Papelbon has finished more than that every season since becoming a closer, the Brewers will have to get creative in order to avoid the option. Jonathan Broxton is still getting paid and could close a few games, and it wouldn’t hurt to try and have young flamethrowers Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel get some experience in the ninth going forward.
Papelbon also has a pretty negative reputation as well, and has been considered a pariah by fans in Philadelphia. He is a fiery competitor, and would definitely bring an edge to the Brewers clubhouse that has seemed to lack vocal, veteran leadership since the departure of Prince Fielder.
I like Papelbon in a Brewers uniform, but only at the right price. I wouldn’t give up a top prospect for him, but luckily the Brewers seem to have a lot of lower level prospects in their top 20 that could appeal to Philadelphia. Perhaps an A ball pitcher like Tyler Wagner or Taylor Williams could get the deal done, depending on how much of Papelbon’s contract the Brewers are willing to take on. I would also avoid guaranteeing his option, if he were to try and make that a bargaining chip for waiving his no-trade clause.
Jonathan Papelbon would instantly make the Brewers better. He has been a stellar closer for both the Red Sox and Phillies since taking over the job full time in 2006, and would immediately slot into that role for Milwaukee. This would likely be the final piece the Brewers need in order to begin the Championship Season of 2015.