Back in mid-June, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported that the Philadelphia Phillies believed that the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals each had interest in reliever Jonathan Papelbon.
Although general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had recently expressed his lack of interest in trading his closer, claiming that they didn't have a capable replacement in the organization nor was there a strong market to find a closer in the upcoming offseason, I went ahead and put together potential trade packages from those three teams.
With the Phillies hanging around in the playoff race over the next several weeks, rumors surrounding Papelbon had dwindled.
But after voicing his frustrations with the direction of the organization on Sunday, following the team's seventh consecutive loss, the word is that the Phillies are open to trading him. In fact, it appears they're listening in on everyone, aside from Domonic Brown, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com.
Jayson Stark of ESPN says that the Phillies' unwillingness to take on any of Papelbon's remaining contract (remainder of $13 million in 2013, $13 million in 2014, $13 million in 2015, $13 million vesting option in 2016) could make it difficult to make a deal.
There's one additional team to add to the mix of teams potentially seeking a closer after the Pittsburgh Pirates lost Jason Grilli to a strained forearm for at least a month and possibly the remainder of the regular season. Papelbon's contract makes them even less likely than the other three aforementioned teams, who have much bigger payrolls.
As for those aforementioned teams, here's an update on their current bullpen situation and the trade package I put together for each back on June 19. Since then, the 32-year-old Papelbon has allowed four earned runs in 13 innings pitched with three walks, 10 strikeouts and six saves in nine chances.
Boston Red Sox
My original trade package had the Sox sending Junichi Tazawa to Philly to give the Phils a potential replacement for Papelbon, as well as outfield prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. and Anthony Ranaudo. Today, that sounds closer to what the Phillies would get for trading Cliff Lee to the Sox.
I didn't write that this would get the deal done for Papelbon. I was only speculating on what the Phillies would be asking for in exchange for one of the top closers in the game. It's doubtful the Sox would include Bradley in any deal that wasn't for an impact starting pitcher or hitter.
Koji Uehara (pictured) has also stabilized the closer's role (12 IP, 0 R, 5 H, BB, 17 K, 5 Sv in six chances), lessening the need to add a closer, although there's no doubt that Papelbon's presence would push everyone else down and make the group even stronger.
If the Sox would take on the remainder of Papelbon's deal, I think Ranaudo and Tazawa would be enough to bring Papelbon back to town.
I had the Phils filling two holes with a Papelbon-to-Detroit deal last month. Avisail Garcia would come over and take on the starting right field job in 2014, while hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon would immediately become the team's "closer of the near future". Low-A starter Jake Thompson, who is having a strong season in Low-A ball, would be the third piece.
The Tigers have cooled on the idea of acquiring Papelbon, however, with Joaquin Benoit (pictured) taking the closer's role and running with it over the past several weeks (17 IP, ER, 13 H, 3 BB, 23 K, 8 Sv in eight chances). Drew Smyly has flourished in the eighth inning role and Monday's acquisition of Jose Veras, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, helps to solidify the bridge to Benoit.
While the Tigers could still add bullpen help, it's unlikely to be a closer with a big contract like Papelbon.
St. Louis Cardinals
I had to get a bit creative to make a potential Papelbon trade with the Cards work last month, expanding the deal to include Jimmy Rollins as an upgrade at the shortstop position. In order to land the two veterans, I had St. Louis giving up two top prospects, second baseman Kolten Wong and right-handed starter Michael Wacha.
There's two reasons why this potential trade proposal isn't happening now.
First of all, Edward Mujica continues to get the job done as the Cardinals' closer, converting 30 of 32 saves overall and posting a 2.01 ERA with only two walks and 38 strikeouts in 44.2 innings.
Adding Papelbon to close and dropping Mujica (pictured) into an eigth-inning role would strengthen the 'pen overall, but it's probably not worth the price—at least one top prospect while taking on Papelbon's contract.
Secondly, Jimmy Rollins wasn't hitting much (.701 OPS on June 19) at the time of my proposed blockbuster trade. He's been even worse since (.599 OPS in 32 games). They could still use an upgrade over Pete Kozma at shortstop, but it won't be Rollins, who has a big contract and a full no-trade clause.
So unless the Sox decide they want Papelbon back and will take on the remainder of his contract, Papelbon and the Phillies are stuck with each other, as one rival executive put it, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
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