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Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon Should Be Next on Trading Block

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Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon Should Be Next on Trading Block
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A too-rare moment of excitement for the excitable closer this season.

It is Jonathan Papelbon, not Cliff Lee, whom the Phillies should be trying to move via waiver trade this month.

All indications now are that Lee is not going anywhere in 2012.  ESPN has reported that waivers on Lee expired over the weekend, and CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweeted today that the Los Angeles Dodgers were one of the teams that Lee could block a trade to.

But the Phillies are still eleven games under .500 and on a slow boat to nowhere with a little more than a month and a half to go.  This is not a time for the front office to idly count days passing.  This is a time for creativity, and action. 

The "trade deadline" has passed, but teams are still able to make deals.  The complication for the Phillies in trading Papelbon now (and for any trading partner) would be that Papelbon must clear waivers.  Explanations of the waiver trade process are abundant—a good one was provided recently by FoxSports.com.

Why trade Papelbon?  It is not his fault that his team has not had as many wins to save as anyone expected.  His numbers—3-4, 3.00 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 24 saves, three blown saves—are in line with expectations given career marks of 26-23, 2.39 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 243 saves and 32 blown saves.

Which is exactly why the Phillies should try to move Papelbon, now.

It is patently obvious that the forces that convinced the Phillies to sign Papelbon to a four-year, $50M contract this past offseason have proven ephemeral.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
"Four...like my ERA for much of this season."

Papelbon’s signing, while costly, was justifiable under the assumption that the pitching-rich, hitting-challenged Phillies would be playing a lot of close games and would have many slim leads to protect.

Unfortunately, the hitting turned out to be not just challenged, but largely non-existent—as of this writing, the Phillies are 19th in Major League Baseball in both runs scored and slugging percentage, and they are 21st in on-base percentage.  That kind of production will not normally keep a closer busy...

...unless he is being asked to pitch in non-save situations, which Papelbon has done seventeen times so far in 2012.

The Phillies will need to be open to the idea of paying at least some of Papelbon’s contract if they hope to move him.  But while the idea of paying someone not to pitch for you is never appealing, the truth is that the Phillies as presently constituted are simply not the sort of team that can justify holding onto an eight-figure closer.  The sellout streak is over, you know.

Fortunately for the Phillies, there are some teams with serious postseason hopes, deep pockets…and iffy closer situations.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have settled on Ernesto Frieri as their closer, whose performance thus far has been spectacular.  But he got the job on May 23.  He was in San Diego to start the season.  Is that who the Angels want to take the ball with a playoff series on the line?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have tabbed Kenley Jansen to close their games.  But he has six blown saves so far, compared to 21 games saved.  The Dodgers have made it clear that they will be aggressive and will spend money.  They could decide that Papelbon is the last piece of the puzzle in 2012.

And the Detroit Tigers have walked the high wire with Jose Valverde closing games.  He has 21 saves against four blown saves…but his ERA is 3.63, and he has only 33 strikeouts against 20 walks.  Surely the Tigers would feel more confident giving the ball to Papelbon in a big spot.

At some level, it almost seems unfair to be targeting Papelbon as a player to move.  Like Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino before him, Papelbon would thus be punished for the shortcomings of his teammates, despite having a representative season in his own right.

But if the Phillies are serious about freeing up money to build around Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay in 2013, the time to slip out of the knot that is Papelbon’s contract is now.

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