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— A Timely Look at Transactions as They Happen
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Phillies - Signed Jonathan Papelbon
Philadelphia Phillies sign DSA Jonathan Papelbon to a four year/ $50 million contract Fifth year vests based on games finished.
Forgive the delay, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d have to substitute Heath Bell. Or Hoyt Wilhelm. The writeup would be slightly different in each case.
It’s an argument that I have no chance of winning, but some windmills need to be tilted at. I’m referring to the DSA. Stands for Designated Save Accumulator. I’ve said many times that you are volunteering to pay a pitcher more than his objective worth when you make him a closer. And I think some of that is driven by the word “closer”. Hence DSA.
On the other hand, the Phillies are paying something very close to the going rate and Papelbon is the best on the market—rarely a bad idea. I don’t think he’s a lock to out-pitch Madson over the next four years, but:
a) I was surprised the Phillies were bringing Madson back. I thought this was very much a grass is always greener situation—particularly in light of some of the comments made early in the season (about how Madson couldn’t close—shortly before he was thrust into the role if I recall correctly)
b) If you’re faced with roughly the same money for Madson or Papelbon I think Papelbon is clearly the one to go with.
It’s not a bargain, but if there is a team structured to take maximum advantage of an elite pitcher for the high leverage innings it’s the Phillies. Not that I expect them to do so, but they could easily get by with two fewer pitchers than most teams. They’re far less likely to need to mix and match through the 7th inning—a big reason for the ever-growing pitching staffs.
Four (potentially five) year contracts for pitchers make me queasy. Still, at his worst Papelbon had a nice strikeout rate and acceptable control to go with it. My concern was always with the way the strikeout rate was trending down while the walk rate was rising and he reversed that last year. I know there are those who are worried about his age, but from what I can see there’s no particular reason to expect age related decline in good pitchers until they’re 36. So it’s just the usual worry that goes with any pitcher. Plus some worry about whether 2011 was just a blip and you get the Papelbon of 2009-2010 (and it says something for signing him in that he was serviceable in that time period.)
That said, I think there’s a pretty fair chance that we’ll see some kind of controversy in 2015 much as happened this year with KRod. Vesting options that are easy for the team to control are just begging to be abused and it’s easy to see the Phillies not wanting the option to vest even if Papelbon is pitching as well as could be expected. After all, he is going to fail from time to time, he’s making a ton of money and he’s a guy many people find easy to dislike.
To be clear, I don’t think it’ll bother Papelbon—he’s been remarkably level-headed about criticism to date and I see no reason to expect a change. I think it’s not unlikely that the club might see him as a distraction that they’d rather not have on the team in 2016.
All in all an overpay but one that makes a ton of sense in terms of team construction.
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