CHRIS PUMMER: The merits of forking over big money to a relief pitcher are dubious, but if the Phillies were bound and determined to spend that cash on someone to accumulate saves, picking Jonathan Papelbon over Ryan Madson was the right choice.
Papelbon is just the better pitcher. When you’re throwing this kind of money around, there’s no sense to pinching pennies and opting for the slightly cheaper option. And Madson, with his rumored 4-year, $45 million deal that was never completed, would have made only slightly less.
Even if you think money on a reliever is better spent, the biggest question as far as how detrimental this Papelbon contract could be for the Phillies is will it stop them from making any other additions where needed? I’d guess the answer is no.
Philadelphia has been spending big bucks on the ninth inning for literally decades. Before Papelbon, the Phillies were paying nearly the same money to Brad Lidge for on-again-off-again-hurt-again work. Lidge was acquired from the Astros and handsomely paid the same was Billy Wagner was before him. Before Wagner came to town, the Phillies had been paying Jose Mesa to do the closing chores. And because having experience and being of some renown are key qualifications for closers in the eyes of Philadelphia brass, they’d previously invested plenty of resources in guys like Doug Jones, Mitch Williams, Roger McDowell and Steve Bedrosian.
The emphasis on finding a guy to wear the closer tag is nothing new. What is new in recent years is the Phillies’ willingness to spend, spend and spend.
A $13 millon-per-year closer is ridiculous for the Padres or Royals. Probably also for the White Sox or Cardinals. Even the Red Sox decided Papelbon was too rich for their blood.
But the Phillies are the top-spending club in the National League. Over the last three years their payrolls have averaged more than $152 million. Only the Red Sox and Yankees have spent more. They’re approaching New York’s $200 million average payrolls.
If the Phillies keep winning, and keep widening their revenue streams, there’s no reason to think Philly can’t survive a big deal that blows up the same way the Yankees are paying even more than Papelbon money to an oft-injured setup man.
If Papelbon pitches like we think he will, not even for every year of this contract, he’ll help to keep the Phillies winning.
MIKE SILVA: I do not subscribe to the theory that “anyone can close” a ballgame, but I find contracts of more than 3 years to pitchers too risky for my taste; and absurd when it comes to bullpen arms. I guess from that statement you know what I think of the 4-year/$45 million dollar deal Ruben Amaro gave to Jonathan Papelbon.
Although still a very good closer, Papelbon has dropped off a bit since 2009. During the Red Sox September collapse, he posted a very hittable 3.72 ERA and blew the final game of the season. With that said, he is still in the upper echelon of closers, but will he be as effective 2 years from now? 3 years? Do you honestly believe he will be in 4? Remember, he is going to be 31 years old this coming season.
Joe Nathan signed a 4 year/$47 million dollar contract with a $12.5 million dollar team option with Minnesota before the 2008 season. At the time, Nathan was probably was the second best closer in baseball to Rivera. He was extremely effective in 2008 and 2009, but blew out his elbow and missed the entire 2010 season. His 2011 was uneven, as was to be expected the first year back from Tommy John surgery. In short, the Twins had dead money on their payroll for half the deal. Nathan is actually a free agent this winter and probably could be had for 2-years and about $20 million. I can’t see him performing any worse than Jonathan Papelbon. There are other potential fireman on the market such as Frank Francisco, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Heath Bell and their own free agent, Ryan Madson.
I don’t see a considerable difference between a Francisco and a Papelbon at this point in their careers. As Chris mentioned, Madson was rumored to want slightly less, but I wonder if he will really end up with more than 3 years. Why not make every effort to bring back someone that you know? I understand the Phils have a small window of opportunity to compete for a championship. They need to capitalize on the Halladay/Lee double-ace tandem, but I can’t see why they jumped so early in the process and gave a monster contract they probably will regret in the next couple of years. They paid for a designer name that probably won’t give them designer performance. The only worse contract on their roster is the big guy who plays first base and will be watching from the stands on crutches due to an Achilles injury.