Yesterday, the Brewers sent Milwaukee into a buzz when it was reported early on in the day that the team was in hot pursuit of Phillies’ closer Jonathan Papelbon. The embattled right hander has been on the block for awhile, and while the Phillies are in full rebuild mode, the Brewers are looking to add one final late inning piece to hopefully push their team over the top into the playoffs.
The Brewers recently sent Yovani Gallardo packing, saving $9 mil in payroll space to pursue relief pitching. With the savings, the Brewers payroll comes in right around $100 mil, a slight drop from last season. The question isn’t if the Brewers will add another pitcher, they are when and who. While Casey Janssen, Rafael Soriano, and the familiar Francisco Rodriguez remain as free agents, Papelbon was head and shoulders better than they were in 2014. While he has experience falling velocity and strikeout rates, Papelbon allowed only two home runs in 66.1 innings and posted a very strong 4.2 strikeout to walk ratio. His sparkling 2.04 ERA (183 ERA+!) was supported by a strong 2.53 FIP. The 5-time All-Star posted the lowest WHIP of his career last season, and his 2.6 WAR would’ve tied Wily Peralta for the best mark of any pitcher on the club.
Already this offseason, the Brewers have waived goodbye to Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny, and at this point K-Rod is still a free agent. Jonathan Broxton is currently slotted in as the closer, and while he has been a solid setup man over the past couple years, he hasn’t been a full time closer since 2012. Broxton has seen his velocity and strikeout rates fall precipitously in recent seasons, and he doesn’t seem to inspire much confidence from the fan base. Jeremy Jeffress has electric stuff and posted a stellar half-season in Milwaukee, but needs to prove he can continue to maintain his control. Will Smith struggled against righties, giving up an .872 OPS against, and Brandon Kintzler posted a 4.67 FIP with 1.2 HR/9 and only 4.8 K/9. With Tyler Thornburg, Jim Henderson, and recent addition Corey Knebel coming off of injuries, this Brewers team needs to shore up it’s relief depth in order to be a serious competitor.
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Last night, Tom Haudricourt tweeted that he “had no reason to believe” that the trade was close, and also said that the Phillies would have to pay a lot of salary for the Papelbon trade to work. Jon Heyman echoed a similar sentiment, saying that money could be a “significant” obstacle to the deal. Papelbon is owed $13 mil this season, and has a vesting option for another $13 mil for next season should he finished 48 games. However, the Brewers are reported to be on the list of teams Papelbon could veto a trade to, so he would likely want them to guarantee his option for next season in order to agree to be moved. The Brewers are highly likely to seek a cash return from the Phillies if this is indeed the case.
With Jonathon Broxton already getting paid $9 mil this season, the thought that he and Papelbon could be making a combined $22 mil seems absurd to many, including Haudricourt. How can you pay that much for two relievers? Surely, we will need that money somewhere else! It seems like a waste, right?
However, if there was ever going to be a year for the Brewers to load up on short term deals, this would be it. The Brewers starting second baseman, shortstop, and left fielder, and 3/5 of the starting rotation are under contract for close to the league minimum this year. Jonathon Lucroy and Carlos Gomez are both MVP candidates that are on extremely team friendly contracts. Ryan Braun‘s deal jumps from $12 mil this year to $19 mil in 2016. The Brewers can afford to pay Papelbon a significant sum of money, because they don’t have a need to spend it on other parts of the ballclub this season.
What about next year, you ask? Surely his $13 mil salary will hamstring us to no end!
Again, this isn’t this case. The Brewers are able to shed the contracts of Kyle Lohse, Adam Lind, Gerardo Parra, Aramis Ramirez, and Broxton following this season, which leaves roughly $50 mil in payroll freed up. Other than Jean Segura and Wily Peralta hitting arbitration eligibility for the first time (though I’d like the Brewers to try and extend Peralta), no other player outside of Braun stands to receive a significant salary bump next season. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Brewers are only on the hook for about $48 mil in payroll guarantees so far for 2016, and haven’t added any long term deals this offseason. Even if the Brewers had to pay Papelbon the entire $13 mil option for 2016, they are in tremendous shape to be able to afford him in their bullpen, especially when Broxton is taken out of the bullpen equation. Taking Papelbon’s 2016 salary into consideration, the team could still add almost $40 mil in payroll and still be right around $100 mil.
The Phillies are trying to rebuild, and would like to go with youth in their bullpen rather than the proven (and expensive) Jonathan Papelbon. The Brewers are a team that is confident in themselves, and could be a proven reliever away from a playoff birth. While some may want to squabble over dollars and cents, I think that the Brewers need to make this deal to put themselves in the best position to compete in 2015. Papelbon would immediately shore up the bullpen and inject some strong personality into the clubhouse. He’s a World Series champion and is used to a winning culture, something that shouldn’t be written off given that this club experience a monumental collapse last season to miss the playoffs.
Jonathan Papelbon fits into the Brewers budget better than most seem to think. He could be the final missing piece for the 2015 Championship Season. Go get him, Doug.