One of the areas the front office is expected to address before the trade deadline is the bullpen. And according to Bruce Levine, the Cubs are interested in RHP Jonathan Papelbon and have had internal discussions about the veteran closer.
There is an obvious connection between the Cubs’ front office and Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox selected Papelbon in the fourth round of the 2003 draft when Theo Epstein was calling the shots for Boston. Papelbon made his Major League debut with the Sox in 2005 and closed out the World Series a couple of years later. Papelbon left Boston at the same time Theo Epstein departed to take the job with the Cubs.
It is believed the Cubs are exploring ways to improve the bullpen and adding a veteran closer like Jonathan Papelbon could push Hector Rondon into a set-up role alongside Pedro Strop.
Dan O’Dowd connected the Cubs and Jonathan Papelbon in a report last week when he explored trades he thought would benefit five teams.
It is unclear what Ruben Amaro Jr. would want in return for Papelbon. O’Dowd does not think the Phillies would ask for much in return for Papelbon, if a team like the Cubs took on his entire contract. Papelbon is owed around $10 million for the remainder of this season ($13 million base for 2015) and he has a vesting option for 2016 worth $13 million that will become guaranteed at some point this season as long as Papelbon remains healthy.
The Phillies signed Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract in November 2011. The contract includes a vesting option for a fifth year (2016) worth $13 million. The fifth year becomes guaranteed if he finishes 55 games this season (2015) or 100 games combined in 2014-15.
Papelbon appeared in 66 games last season and finished 52 of them. Entering play Monday night, Papelbon had finished 15 of the 16 games he has pitched in this year. Papelbon is within finishing 33 games of a $13 million payday.
The now 34-year old closer (Nov. 23, 1980) is having a good year. Prior to Monday’s game, Papelbon had allowed two runs on 10 hits with four walks and 18 strikeouts in 16 innings (1.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) and has been very consistent throughout his current contract with the Phillies.
Philadelphia won its sixth game in a row Monday night and moved past the Marlins out of the cellar in the NL East. The Phillies are 5 1/2 games back of the first place Mets and still six games under .500 (17-23). The Phillies are expected to be open for business and willing to trade several veterans, like Jonathan Papelbon, for the right return.
While Dan O’Dowd doesn’t think the Phillies would want much in return for Papelbon, Ruben Amaro Jr. hasn’t exactly made a lot of trades over the past two years. Reportedly Amaro Jr. says he wants to trade players but asks so much in return that no one has been able to work out a deal with him.
Jonathan Papelbon has a limited no-trade clause in his contract and can block a deal to 17 teams. Coupled with the roughly $23 million left owed to him over the next two years it could be hard for the Phillies to trade him if they do not include money to pay down the contract and reduce the risk to the acquiring team.
Buster Olney recently reported that Huston Street’s deal with the Angels set the going rate for a closer at around $9 million per year. If the Phillies were to include around $5 million in a trade for Papelbon it might improve the quality of prospects they receive for him.
With the Cubs back in the National spotlight and still playing good ball six weeks into the season, the rumors should start flowing after Memorial Day. The Cubs have the payroll flexibility to add players and the prospect currency to acquire the pieces the front office think will help the team reach its goal. Keep in mind, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer like players with multiple years of team control left on their contract. Paying a little more for a longer term asset would seem to fit the Cubs plan a little more than a three-four month rental.