You remember that friend of the family? The one who came to your gatherings, ate your food, and told wild stories that filled the room with laughter? However, slowly, but surely, he started coming less and less, as he began overstaying his welcome. Eventually, you realize that you couldn’t remember the last time he was around. You also can’t remember why anyone would want him to come back, as his brilliant fire faded in the background of the present day.
Such is the case of Jonathan Papelbon.
The 6’4″ former Boston Red Sox closer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was the topic of trade rumors this offseason, but much of it has stopped. Talks between Papelbon’s current team, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Milwaukee Brewers have stalled, according to Fox Sports baseball insider Ken Rosenthal:
The Phillies wanted a top prospect in exchange for paying much of Papelbon’s contract, but the Brewers did not accept. “Papelbon will earn $13 million this season, and his $13 million option for ’16 will vest if he finishes 48 games. The Brewers are on Papelbon’s no-trade list, and he would likely require them to pick up his option, if he were to approve a trade,” according to CBS Sports writer Michael Hurcomb.
While the money seems a lot for a 34-year-old closer, Papelbon’s outspokenness has helped keep other teams away, as well. His critical comments of the Phillies and questionable behavior on the field, in recent years, has not sat well with the fans. Papelbon even served a seven-game suspension for grabbing his crotch and arguing with an umpire, last season. Rumors persist that this behavior finds its way off the field as well. “In the midst of Papelbon’s outstanding 2014 season, [a member of the Phillies’ organization] told a member of the Detroit Tigers organization that Papelbon would solve that team’s closer issues. ‘Yeah,’ the Tigers person responded, ‘but he’d [mess] up our clubhouse,'” according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. When a team, known to have had closer issues which kept them from winning the World Series multiple times, refuses to even entertain the notion of trading for a former champion closer because he may mess up clubhouse morale, one begs the question: will anyone want him?
After seven blown saves and only 57 strikeouts in 2013, Papelbon did regain some of his form for 39 saves and 63 strikeouts last season. However, that was still a far cry from the 92 disappointed batters which made Papelbon an all-star in his first season with the Phillies in 2012. Much of that has to do with his fastball. After his last year in Boston (2011), there has been a definite dip in Papelbon’s velocity, from just under 95 to just over 91 mph, while his splitter has seen a similar fate from just under 90 to 86 mph (FanGraphs.com). Still, he was getting batters out and picking up saves, like he did before in Boston. Under other circumstances, any team would love to have a closer of this caliber.
Aug 12, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Koji Uehara (19) celebrates with first baseman David Ortiz (34) and catcher Christian Vazquez (55) at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
But this is Jonathan Papelbon, the boisterous ball-chucker, making a ton of money before being a free agent in 2016. A closer, who only sees 60-70 innings a season, who other players do not seem enthusiastic to play with, who goes after umpires, and who gives obscene gestures to booing fans, making him a public relations nightmare. He was loved for a good time in Boston; would Papelbon be loved again? Why would Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington want to find out? He has Koji Uehara. Sure, he’s almost 40, but he only costs $9 million for each of the next two seasons. Uehara struck out 80 batters, much more than Papelbon, on what experts agree was an off-year for him and the team. Oh, and the Japanese closer just so happened to make himself the darling of Red Sox Nation in 2013, shutting down the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series, and jumping into David Ortiz‘s arms in victory. Those hugs, by the way, kept coming throughout 2014.
PR dream versus PR nightmare? Don’t plan on any reunion between Papelbon and Boston any time soon. In fact, he may have already worn out his welcome in all of Major League Baseball. One thing about the ‘good times’: they can go on without you, if you don’t get invited to the party.