Folks who've talked with PHI say they're EXTREMELY motivated to move Papelbon. Could cost $39m for 2014-2016 seasons if '16 option vests.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 13, 2013
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has a reputation as one of the most traditional GM in baseball, but even he can't justify an eight-figure closer on a team that could struggle again in 2014.
It looks like a case of buyer's remorse, but what did Amaro think was going to happen?
Papelbon's career high in innings pitched was the 70 he threw in his first season in Philadelphia. He made $11 million that season. And $13 million in 2013. And he'll make $13 million in 2014 and 2015 as well. His 2016 option is for the same amount and it vests if Papelbon finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 from 2014-15.
Since relievers don't pitch as many innings each season as their starting counterparts, it can be hard to tell if certain stats are mere fluctuations in a small sample size, or if the numbers are trying to tell you something of legitimate concern. Papelbon's career strikeouts per nine is 10.6, but that plummeted 8.3 in 2013. Many pitchers would love to ring batters up that often, but for Papelbon, it could be a sign of regression. His waning velocity is also a concern. When he signed with Philly in 2011, his fastball was clocking in at right around 95 miles per hour on average. That number dropped to just under 94 mph last year, and reached a career-low average of 92 mph in 2013.
A dip in strikeouts and velocity doesn't necessarily mean Papelbon won't be a useful player in the future, but it could be a hint that his best days are behind him.
Having quality relievers is certainly a large part of what has made already good teams better in the past (Boston and Koji Uehara come to mind), but Amaro will likely have a tough time finding a decent return for Papelbon due to his lucrative contract. In the end, the Phillies might have to swallow some cash to facilitate a deal.