Jonathan Papelbon is at it again. Of course, its arguable he never stopped. Tired of closing for the lackluster Philadelphia Phillies, Pabelbon is urging them to trade him, a regular occurrence this time of year. There’s no doubt that Pabelbon has strong numbers – 16 saves, a solid WHIP and ERA. However, should opposing teams be interested?
Well, interested GMs can thank me. I’ve gone ahead and done a little research on deadline deals for closers over the last five years. Unfortunately for the Phillies, it’s pretty hard to prove any closer traded at the deadline during that time period boosted his new team to World Series caliber. When trading top prospects for an impact player, the idea is to sacrifice the future for a chance to “win now.” These deals, however, did not result in that.
In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds did win the NL Central title. That same year, they traded for Jonathon Broxton. Broxton went from being the Royals closer (23 saves in 27 opportunities) to being Aroldis Chapman’s setup man, putting up 4 saves and 10 holds. Broxton essentially added a value of .6 wins to the Reds. Of course, they traded away two of their top 30 pitching prospects for this bullpen solidification and later traded Broxton to the Brewers in 2014 for two players to be named later.
The Rangers took advantage of a solid closer during a struggling year, trading away Joakim Soria in 2014. After converting 17 of 19 opportunities, Soria was sent to the Detroit Tigers. Finally, the closer the Tigers needed. Oh wait - he, like Broxton, was moved to a set up role, pitching the inning before Joe Nathan, another former Rangers closer. Soria’s numbers that year as a Tiger: one win, one loss, one save, and one hold in 11 innings of work. He contributed -.01 wins to the team before suffering a trip to the Disabled List.
One of the more successful deals was for Huston Street in 2014. Street brought 24 saves to the Anaheim Angels and converted 17 out of 19 once on the team. He accounted for 1.2 wins, one of the highest contributions of any closer traded in the last 5 years. Yet what happened to the division winners and their new closer? A quick sweep in the Division Series to the Baltimore Orioles.
In fact, all three teams above lost in the Division Series. Sure, they all made the playoffs, but none were in dire straits before making these deals. The Angels had the second best record in all of baseball at the season’s midpoint and the Tigers were 4.5 games up in their division. The Reds were arguably the most risky out of these three and still were in play for the Wild Card. Simply put, the deals were not what they needed to “win now.”
With closers having a shorter shelf life today (injuries, unsustained success) and some managers successfully playing the statistical advantage instead of relying on a player with the supposed “clutch” gene, is a Jonathon Papelbon really worth what the Phillies may ask for? Not to mention, if a team wants to solidify their bullpen, why not trade for a successful, cheap middle reliever? The Orioles did this last year with Andrew Miller and saw solid success (.9 WAR, 9 holds and a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings pitched) in exchange for Eduardo Rodriquez, a starting pitcher who has performed a little worse than average for the Red Sox in his rookie year.
History does not support the idea that a closer, even if being given the job instead of becoming a set up man, can make a team a winner. When also factoring in Papelbon’s age (34) and unique ability to alienate an entire franchise’s fan base (see photo below), the risk continues to climb.
Those interested in Papelbon should use the data to drive a hard bargain. My point in all of this is a simple plea: please, don’t sell the farm for Papelbon.