Friday, December 13, 2013

Do You Want This Man As Your Closer Next Year?

(Courtesy of Ashley Papelbon's Twitter)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

That's a difficult question to answer for many Yankee fans for a variety of reasons.  Jonathan Papelbon isn't and has never been very well-liked in Yankeeland.  That will happen when you're wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform and have a brashness and arrogance about you that borders on obnoxious sometimes.  One thing he has been over the course of his career is a very good closer, and like his left-handed starter teammates in Philly he may be available via trade for the right price.  Part of that price may include outfielder Domonic Brown as part of a package deal, which raises more questions about just what the hell the Phillies are doing this offseason.  But with the Yankees looking for veteran bullpen help and with their progress slowed on other fronts, they may want to consider putting a call in to Ruben Amaro about their former nemesis.

Putting aside the previous laundry, there's still some things to like about Papelbon as a player.  He just turned 33, so he's got gas left in the tank, and even though his fastball velocity has started to tail off he's maintained a very good level of performance thanks to some adjustments to his offerings.  Papelbon has started working a 2-seamer in a lot more over the last 3 seasons, along with an improved splitter and the occasional slider he can go to for a swing and miss.  He pitched to a 2.92/3.05/3.51 slash line this past season with 29 saves in 36 chances.  For the 6th straight year, he threw more than 60 innings and while his K rate dropped dramatically (22.4% from 32.4% in 2012), he did cut down on his walks (4.3% BB rate).

On the other side of the coin, the 2013 drop in K rate and the surely related drop in velocity were pretty serious.  According to PITCHf/x, Papelbon lost almost 2 MPH on both his 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs and almost 4 on his slider.  His stuff wasn't close to what it has been and it showed in his peripherals.  His O-Swing rate was way down (31.8% from 36.4% in 2012), his Contact rate was up (78.3% from 74.7% in 2012) and his 10.6% Swinging Strike rate was the lowest of his career.  Now that decline has started to set in for Papelbon and set in in what appears to be a big way, there's reason to be concerned about how much longer he can continue to be effective.

Part of that concern comes from the years and money remaining on his contract.  Papelbon has 2 years remaining on the 4-year/$50 million deal he signed with the Phillies before the 2012 season, at $13 mil per year.  He also has an option for a 5th year at another $13 mil that vests if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games over the next 2 seasons.  If the Yankees were interested in him, they'd have to assume they were taking him on for 3 years and $39 million and that's a big price tag for a guy showing signs of potentially major decline.

There's also the matter of what Philly would want in return.  The asking price for Papelbon won't be nearly what it would be for Cliff Lee, but they're still going to want at least 1 useful, Major League-ready piece and the Yankees' young pitchers who fit that description aren't exactly future top-of-the-rotation studs.  We just saw how much they value Brett Gardner when they declined Cincy's trade proposal for Brandon Phillips.  Do they value David Phelps the same way?

I'm not crazy about bringing in Papelbon personally, but I could get behind it if Philly was willing to pay some of his remaining salary and wasn't asking for too much in return.  He's reliable, he's durable, and he has plenty of experience pitching in big games and in the AL East.  If the Yankees still aren't sold on D-Rob as closer material, Papelbon is probably the best possible option for the job.  He won't come cheap, and it would involve putting some past hatred and bad memories behind us as Yankee fans.  But if we could do it for 28 games of a washed up Kevin Youkilis, I think we could do it for Papelbon.

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