The end of the Papelbon-sized contract for closers

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Royals are quasi-respectable and the Pirates and Orioles are contenders, where are the funny teams? The Astros are going to unleash an Appel/Rodon ray on us soon, and the Marlins are surprisingly well-stocked for a run in the not-that-distant future. You can laugh at them now, but they don't have the kind of future that makes you giggle. Where, again, are the funny teams?

Oh, Phillies. Sweet, sweet Phillies.

Amazing. If the Phillies didn't exist, we'd have to invent them, and that wouldn't be nearly as funny.

I'm going to guess the odds are decent that Ruben Amaro was either deflecting why the Phillies weren't going to spend for a pitcher like Matt Garza, or that he was intentionally messing with us. Either way, still funny. Here are some more funny things, presented in the form of MLB Trade Rumors headlines:

Phillies Shopping Jonathan Papelbon

Mutual Interest Between Phillies, Ryan Madson

The first one is funny because you could have written it the day after he signed his contract with the Phillies. You could have opened up a calendar, flipped to 2013, and gotten within a week of when that exact headline was going to appear. The four-year, $50 million deal for a closer -- a closer! -- was mocked at the time. It's mocked today. And you'll never believe this, but the Phillies are having trouble trading him.

The second one isn't funny, really. It's more illuminating. There, in six words, is why you don't pay closers four years and $50 million. Because they break or become ineffective, for one, and because formerly broken and ineffective relievers come cheaply enough if you look for them. Madson could have been the Phillies' mistake. Instead, if he comes at a bargain, he can be the lesson at the end of the fable.

The Phillies' struggles to trade Papelbon this offseason dovetail nicely with the closer market in free agency. The Tigers are paying Papelbon prices for Joe Nathan, but on a much shorter contract. Grant Balfour has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last four years, but he secured only a two-year deal (that's since been rescinded).

Which is a long-winded way to get to the question of the day: Is the Jonathan Papelbon contract dead?

It could be we just haven't had a good candidate for a hilarious deal since Papelbon. Over the last five years, there have been 38 pitchers with a pair of 20-save seasons. Just about a third of them are still closers. Most of the rest are out of baseball, in middle-relief roles, or have suffered calamitous elbow or shoulder injuries. Mega deals are always going to look bad in the aggregate, but closers are a special breed. A couple of years ago, I wondered if teams knew something we didn't. Turns out, nope. Closers are still spectacularly bad investments.

On that Play Index list up there, I see just two closers who could possibly get the Papelbon: Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. Both are freaks. Both are the kinds of almost-necessary pitchers GMs want to think their current closer is. Kimbrel just completed what might have been the greatest two-year stretch in short-relief history, Dennis Eckersley included. Chapman wasn't quite as unhittable, but he's still a rare, valuable commodity.

Both pitchers can be a free agent after the 2016 season. Same goes with Kenley Jansen, who should probably be named in the same breath. The odds are exceptional that none of those pitchers will be throwing at the same level then, though. Maybe they'll be Mariano Rivera, doing their thing until they voluntarily decide it's time to quit. But that's like saying maybe that demo those kids next door cut will be a latter-day Revolver. Maybe it will be! Assume it won't be. So even if it looks like Kimbrel or Chapman are the best bets to get the next huge closer deal, there's still a lot of baseball between now and then.

Sergio Romo's a free agent after the 2014 season, but there have always been lingering concerns over his slider-burdened elbow and general durability. Other than that, there's Brian Fue … wait … Ryan Frank … wait … Jonathan Brox … hold on …

Unless there's a nascent super-closer close to free agency who's going to emerge in the next few months, we're pretty far from the next Papelbon contract. We might not see it again for several years, if ever.

But if anyone wants the last one, it's there for you. It's kind of a collector's item, you know.

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