CINCINNATI -- Jonathan Papelbon was the star of All-Star Media Day on Monday, reiterating his desire to be traded by the Phillies in response to almost every question posed to him. The closer's refreshing honesty was on display during a 30-minute interview with members of the media, and has been quoted by almost every major outlet over the last 24 hours.
Although Papelbon's direct quotes were candid enough on their own, reading between the lines a bit reveals some deeper tension between the All-Star and the Phillies' transitioning management team. Here's a look at what he said, and what he was really saying:
(When asked if he's surprised he's still a Phillie): "Yeah. I’ve told [Phillies' beat writer] Jim [Salisbury] a hundred times I’m surprised. I think it’s just that time where either 'you-know-what or get off the pot'. I think you can only stay in that limbo area for so long, it’s starting to become more of a necessity to move one way or another for the Phillies organization."
Papelbon came out with a strong punch in his first answer, with his first of three mentions of the "blank-or-get-off-the-pot" line. He is (like the rest of the baseball industry) baffled by the Phillies' philosophy in recent years and hates the limbo that he is directly stuck in while waiting to be dealt.
"I wouldn’t go anywhere, no. I’m not gonna go to a team that’s 18 games out of first. I want to go to a contender. I feel like I’m to the point in my career where I’ve earned a no-trade clause and I’ve been able to get to that point. I’ve got to use it, but at the same time I’m also not going to just use it and be dumb about it. I do want to get out of Philly, but I need to make a smart decision. I’ll make a decision that’s best for me to go to contend and win a championship. That’s basically what my whole decision is going to be based on."
Realistically, a team that is way out of the pennant race wouldn't look to trade for Papelbon, so he doesn't have to worry about being moved to a non-contender. His desire to leave Philadelphia may ultimately exceed his desire to play in the perfect situation, so it appears that he is likely going to accept any deal that puts him back in the heat of a playoff race.
"For me, I’ve got to stay more focused on my job at hand and not let an 8-0 ballgame in the second inning get me out of my routine or get me out of my focus. That’s been what’s been hard for me, being on the Phillies, staying in that focus and having that competitive edge. That’s not easy, it’s not easy at all."
An honest shot at the Phillies here with the "8-0 ballgame in the second inning" jab. Papelbon has been one of the most fiery competitors in baseball over the last few years, so you can almost see how it almost makes his skin crawl to pitch in situations that don't matter.
(On the Red Sox): "That organization was great and did everything they could for their players. It was easy for me to move on because the Red Sox did everything they could to put me in a situation to win and protect me and all those things. When the time came and they wanted to make that decision, I had no hard feelings whatsoever."
Less direct jab here, but a jab nonetheless in praising his old organization for their professionalism while stuck in a situation he feels to be unprofessionally handled. It seems almost certain at this point he will have those hard feelings toward the Phillies' organization if and when he is traded.
"I made the decision to go to a Philadelphia Phillies team that had won 102 games, so I made that decision based on that. I personally thought that I was going to come to Philly and get abused. I had a starting staff and a team that was hitting the leather off the ball and I thought that I was going to come to Philadelphia and win two more rings. I honestly and truthfully did."
"The downward spiral happened, and it just happened so quick. It’s almost unexplainable, besides the injuries and stuff like that. I think age plays a certain factor in there but to me, I think you can still compete at a high level the older you are."
The "unexplainable" part is how the Phillies refuse to go through the same transition as every other franchise as a result of that downward spiral. Injuries and age contribute to the downfall of a franchise, as Papelbon said. Management usually fixes those things by capitalizing on trade value and developing a strong farm system.
"This is not what I signed up for. I signed up for a team that had won 102 games and was expecting certain things. It didn’t happen, and I tried to ride that ship as much as I can and I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut as much as I can. Like I said earlier, it’s time to 'you-know-what or get off the pot.' I feel like three years is plenty enough time to ride it out, so to speak. If fans can’t understand that, I can’t really side with them on that. I’m getting older and I don’t know how many years I have left in the this game, I don’t know how many All-Star games I have left. None of that’s guaranteed. For me, I’m just simply trying to be on winning ballclub and win as many rings as I can before it’s all said and done and I’m coaching [his son] Gunner in little league. That’s really all I’m trying to do. From my perspective, I don’t understand how fans couldn’t understand that. I understand that they wear their hearts on their sleeves and all that stuff, but I’m in it to compete and to win. I don’t have that opportunity in this organization. Also, I feel like I’ve given this organization as many opportunities as I can to put a winning ballclub out there and as many chances to keep me in this organization, and it just hasn’t happened. We’re where we’re at today, and that’s it."
Papelbon's longest quote is also the most well-executed message in his "Please Ruben, Trade Me" campaign. He is right to say that he has dealt with a lot in Philadelphia, especially considering the misconceived perception that he was on the decline despite an ERA (2.33) that exactly equals his total ERA from his time in Boston. Fans should understand that the organization's job is to do right by its players while doing everything in its power to keep the team moving toward being competitive. In the Phillies' case, they're not doing either.
(On if Papelbon spoke with general manager Ruben Amaro during the team's West Coast trip): "No. Then again, I’m not sure if sitting down and speaking with Ruben solely is going to get something done. I think the organization now has moved into the owner, president, assistant president and GM all trying to make a decision together. That’s my take on it, I don’t know if that’s true or not. That’s what I’m starting to feel like. I feel like if it wasn’t that way and so many people weren’t involved in the decision-making of the Phillies’ organization, I feel like things would be happening quicker and easier. That’s just my opinion."
Papelbon's frustration with the Phillies' organizational model really shows here, as he believes that "too many cooks in the kitchen" is leading to his prolonged misery in the City of Brotherly Love. New team president Andy MacPhail is expected to become the main decision-maker once Pat Gillick steps down after the season, but is unable to deliver change in his current advisory role.
"I try to stay optimistic and think that things are going to work out and that the Phillies are going to the right thing by me. If they don’t, that will be a bridge that I’ll have to cross then.
"I’m surprised it has taken this many years. I thought something was going to happen last year. Like I said earlier, it’s kinda 'you-know-what or get off the pot.' The Phillies have got to make a decision, you’ve got to go one way or the other. You can’t be in limbo and sit here and say, 'What if we do this?' or, 'What if we do that?' You’ve got to make a decision and go with it. I know we’ve got a new interim president, a new interim manager and all this change supposedly happening, but I don’t see any of it."
Another very critical comment by Papelbon, who truly believes that the Phillies are morally obligated to move him to a contender this month and repeats his "get off the pot" line for a third time in 15 minutes. He's right to say that change hasn't trickled down to the players yet this season, as MacPhail and interim manager Pete Mackanin seem to be acting as placeholders for the rest of this season.
"The only time I really look is when I look up and see Toronto drumming somebody 15-to-1 or something like that. That pops out because you see 15 or you see double-digits up there.
"I think every pitcher would want to pitch behind that kind of run support. But then again, I don't think there's any team out there that is clearly ahead of anyone else. No one in any of these divisions are running away with anything. I think it's going to be a tough decision for me and it's not going to be really easy."
Papelbon continues to mention Toronto as a possible destination as rumors fly that the Jays will want to add a closer at the deadline, and compliments the team with his "15-to-1" comment. At this point, he would consider most contenders, but it seems like the Jays are at the top of his wish list.
(On if he worries about being with the Phillies past the deadline): "Of course. That thought definitely goes through my mind. It’s one step at a time. I can’t think that far ahead."
"Here’s the deal: whether I go to Toronto, or Chicago, or stay in Philly or anywhere, the only consistent thing that is going to happen is that every night I’m going to prepare to go out and compete. I’ll do that regardless of where I’m at, even though if it’s still in Philly I won’t be happy."
What begins as a boiler-plate "I'll compete wherever I go" message ends with another trade demand as Papelbon continued to repeat his desire to get out of Philadelphia. He even admitted that he was worried about being with the team past the trade deadline.
"At that point, and this may sound selfish ... If I’m still with Philly, I’m going to go out there and play for myself and my own name and my own career and my own stats, and all that. I’m not going to just throw it in."
Another commitment to competitiveness with a subtle jab at the Phillies. Read: "If I'm still wearing that uniform come August, I'm competing for myself and don't owe anything to this organization."
(On if Amaro's controversial comments negatively impact the clubhouse situation): "The comments that Ruben has made through offseasons and seasons, I don’t think they necessarily help. It don’t bother me. I don’t mind a general manager saying, ‘You know what, guess what, you’re not getting the job done, let’s pick it up,’ that doesn’t bother me. But I’m not the same type of player as a lot of guys in that clubhouse and I’m not sure if it necessarily helps or not.
"I haven’t talked to a lot of the other guys in the clubhouse [about being traded] and I can’t speak on their behalf. All I can do is speak for myself, knowing that I do want to make a change at this point in my career and move somewhere and have a chance to win another ring."
The comments don't bother Papelbon yet because they're not directly about him, though he understands why veterans Ryan Howard and Chase Utley may be upset about the level of disrespect in what looks to be becoming a toxic work environment. His comments seem to alienate him a bit from his teammates, as it seems strange that he would not discuss his trade wishes with veterans who are in similar situations.
"Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand: If this decision was solely on my shoulders, I would’ve been gone a long time ago. I only have so much power, I can only do so much. If another team comes to the Phillies with an offer and the Phillies don’t like it and don’t want to accept it, I can’t do anything about that. I’ve only got so much power. This is not really on me a whole lot. I wish it was. It’s just not."
Everyone does understand that the Phillies' incompetence is leading to these issues, and that they've forced Papelbon's hand into making a public plea for a trade at this stage in his career. His partial no-trade clause has been discussed as a major obstacle to a deal, but it's really not; he badly wants out and will tell anyone who's listening.