Jonathan Papelbon, it seems, has officially attained “toxic asset” status. That’s too bad, because the polarizing Philadelphia Phillies closer could legitimately help a contender in need of late-inning relief.

Like, say, the Milwaukee Brewers, who are hoping to crash the party in the hyper-competitive National League Central.

Milwaukee has shown interest in Papelbon, but only in a “let’s swap bad contracts” sense, as Fox Sports‘ Ken Rosenthal notes:

The Phillies only were willing to pay a significant part of Papelbon’s contract if the Brewers parted with a top prospect, according to major-league sources.

The Brewers, unwilling to make such an exchange, instead proposed sending reliever Jonathan Broxton to the Phillies as a way to balance the finances.

Papelbon is owed $13 million this season and an additional $13 million in 2016 if he finishes 48 games. Broxton will make $9 million in 2015 with a $1 million buyout for 2016.

So that’s what it’s come to for the Phils: Keep Papelbon on a sinking vessel, or ship him off and save a few bucks.

We know which way Papelbon is leaning. He wants a one-way ticket out of the City of Brotherly Love—posthaste.

“Some guys want to stay on a losing team?” the right-hander asked‘s Todd Zolecki in July, when his name was swirling in the deadline rumor blender. “That’s mind-boggling to me.” 

Did Papelbon think he’d be dealt then? “I don’t have that crystal eight-ball,” he told Zolecki.

Lucky for Papelbon, he slings baseballs better than metaphors.

In fact, the five-time All-Star enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2014, posting a 2.04 ERA with 39 saves and a career-low 0.905 WHIP.

Those numbers would slot nicely into any bullpen in baseball. So why isn’t there more interest?

Certainly money is a factor. But while $13 million is a lot to toss at a reliever, look at the four-year, $46 million contract the Chicago White Sox just handed closer David Robertson. 

More specifically, Chicago will pay Robertson $13 million in 2018, his age-33 season. Papelbon just turned 34.

On the other hand, Rosenthal reports, “Papelbon likely will require the Brewers or any other team on his no-trade list to guarantee his option before approving a trade.” The deal then effectively becomes two years, $26 million. Hence the desire for the Phils to eat some cash.

OK, now let’s talk attitude. Recall the incident in September when Papelbon blew a three-run lead against the Miami Marlins, then responded to the boo birds at Citizens Bank Park with an exaggerated crotch grab.

MLB lowered the hammer, fining Papelbon an undisclosed amount and suspending him for seven games.

Some of that can be chalked up to pitching in a losing environment. Put Papelbon on a winner, like in his salad days with the Boston Red Sox, and watch his attitude magically adjust. (Though, to be fair, his tenure in Beantown also ended with a little bad blood.)

According to Rosenthal, the Phillies want a “top prospect” if they’re going to swallow a significant portion of Papelbon’s contract. 

That’s probably not going to happen. But surely there’s some middle ground between that and swapping albatrosses. Surely there’s a win-now club willing to part with young talent in exchange for an experienced door slammer with gas in the tank? (Great, now he’s got me mixing metaphors.) 

At this point, the most likely scenario involves Papelbon spending a few more semi-miserable months in Philadelphia and getting dangled at the deadline, when part of his annual salary will be paid and teams in the heat of the race will be more apt to part with prospects. 

Here’s betting Papelbon will be an asset wherever he ultimately lands—and a non-toxic one at that.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference

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