Detroit Tigers: Jonathan Papelbon Is Not the Right Fit at Closer
The Tigers have had a revolving door with their ninth inning guy all season, and have been searching for a suitable closer since Jose Valverde's blow up in the 2012 postseason.
Detroit originally trusted 22-year-old rookie Bruce Rondon to inherit the position this season, but Rondon has disappointed so far. Other options, including Valverde and a closer-by-committee plan, have not worked either.
For the majority of the season, Papelbon has been rumored to be on the trade market for the struggling Philadelphia Phillies, who are currently 9.5 games back of first place in the National League East.
Papelbon would be a flashy addition, but at the end of the day, the Tigers would be making a huge mistake acquiring the 32-year-old right-hander.
Here are the four reasons why Papelbon is not the right fit in Detroit:
Numbers Not That Impressive
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For what it's going to cost to acquire Papelbon, his current numbers don't warrant the expense.
Papelbon’s 2-0 record and 2.05 ERA may look impressive, but his numbers are extremely deceiving, especially lately.
Both of the 32 year old’s two victories this season came after blown saves in the last two weeks—part of a skid that’s seen him blow four of his last six save opportunities.
Papelbon had a great start to this season, posting a 2.00 ERA with four saves in as many opportunities in April. He had an even better month of May, boasting a 0.77 ERA and going a perfect 7-for-7 in saves.
The wheels fell off in June, however, as Papelbon has allowed eight hits in his last seven appearances and has had only one perfect inning in that span.
Joaquin Benoit is the most likely current Tigers reliever to take over as closer and, although he hasn’t been a closer all season, Benoit has similar—but slightly better—numbers than Papelbon.
Benoit is 5-for-5 in save situations and has a 2-0 record with a 1.89 ERA this season. He has 41 strikeouts compared to only 10 walks, and wouldn’t cost the Tigers anything but replacing their eighth inning guy.
He's a Headcase
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One thing that has remained constant during the Jim Leyland era in Detroit, is that the clubhouse has always been a cohesive unit. You never hear of a locker room distraction or a player not buying in or gelling with the other players on the team.
If you bring in Papelbon, you jeopardize that underrated intangible that all great teams have.
Papelbon has been known to make himself bigger than the game in the past, and nothing has changed since he joined the Phillies in 2012.
After blowing his second save in three appearances against the Washington Nationals on June 19, Papelbon took partial blame for losing the game, but didn’t forget to take a subtle shot at his teammates for their lack of fundamental prowess after the game.
“Everything from the pitchers making the correct pitches, to pitchers backing up the right bases, to the outfield moving on counts, to the infield moving on counts. Everything that goes into every pre-pitch. We’ve got to do better,” he said to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com after blowing the save against the Nationals.
“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. It’s a team effort here. To be able to win and be in the forefront of the playoff race, you have to play good fundamental baseball and do the little things, and the little things are before the pitches are thrown," he said.
Throughout the roller coaster the Tigers have been on the past few years, they've managed to stay away from in-house drama. With Papelbon in the clubhouse, that run of happy days could be over.
Castellanos Would Be Traded
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If there's one prospect in the Tigers' farm system that every MLB team knows about, it's Nick Castellanos.
The Tigers' 2010 first-round draft pick entered this season as the No. 21 ranked prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America, and comes up in every trade conversation the Tigers get into.
But the Tigers shouldn't offer Castellanos in a trade that would only yield Papelbon at this point.
After a rough start to this season for Triple-A Toledo, Castellanos is batting .300 with a .377 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and 42 RBI in 85 games. He's already eclipsed his previous home run career high and is on pace to crush his high-water total for doubles.
The Tigers know exactly how valuable the 21 year old could be in the future, and are being very careful with his development. They are refusing to bring him up for his major league debut, even though at times, he looks ready.
Castellanos has developed into an outfielder in the minor leagues, but is capable of playing third base and shortstop, which will be valuable to the Tigers when he's eventually brought up.
I'm in favor of trading almost anyone in the Tigers' farm system to get a closer that will help Detroit win a World Series this season, but I don't think Castellanos should be one of those players, and I definitely don't think Papelbon is the player to trade such a bright prospect for.
Contract Not Worth It
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Despite Mike Ilitch's deep wallet, acquiring Papelbon's contract could get the Tigers in trouble moving forward.
The Tigers already have the fifth-highest payroll in the AL, and with Cabrera potentially becoming a free agent after the 2015 season, a lot of focus and dollar bills could be going his way soon.
Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies prior to the 2012 season.
He made $11 million last season, and is making $13 million this season, which means the Tigers would inherit the most expensive part of the deal through 2015, including a player-friendly vesting option for 2016 likely to add $13 million on top of it.
Ilitch is 83 years old and won't keep sole ownership of the Tigers for much longer.
When Ilitch inevitably steps down, who knows if his successor will want to, or feel the need to spend as much as he has in the past several years.
If you pay Papelbon now, you might not be able to afford to keep Cabrera and other big-money players in a few years.