The Philadelphia Phillies continue to shop two prominent pitchers whose names will festoon the MLB rumor mill until a resolution is reached.

It’s no secret that the 2008 World Series champions are trending southward. Following a string of five consecutive National League East titles, the Phillies have not finished above .500 in the last three years, stamping 73 wins in each of the past two seasons.

Many projection models anticipate an even worse 2015 from the elderly club. Baseball ProspectusPECOTA and FanGraphs each forecast Philadelphia landing MLB’s worst record. There’s no relief in sight either, as ESPN’s Keith Law gave its farm system a No. 25 overall ranking. 

Given the bleak situation, general manger Ruben Amaro Jr. must dangle the few valuable assets remaining in his arsenal. That includes ace Cole Hamels, the team’s best player, and Jonathan Papelbon, a highly regarded closer with one year left on his contract.

These two pitchers have frequented trade discussions for months, but nothing has materialized. Let’s see if the latest chatter stands any chance at changing that stagnancy.  


Cole Hamels

Other than Papelbon, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee—who made just 13 starts last season due to an ankle injury—the Phillies are running out of currency to cash out for young talent. Perhaps some fans take that as reasoning to retain the 31-year-old righty, but that would mean wasting the remnants of Hamels’ peak years on a bottom-dwelling club.

He would certainly heat up the hot stove after notching a career-low 2.46 ERA last season. As stable as they come, he has amassed over 200 innings through each of the past five seasons.

A popular talking point during the winter meetings, possible deals have largely subsided in recent weeks. Yet Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal welcomed back an old speculated suitor, even if it remains a long shot.

Pitching is rarely a problem for the San Diego Padres, who registered a 3.27 team ERA last season. They can plug a decent hurler in there and watch Petco Park morph him into an ace.

So what would an actual ace in Hamels accomplish inside the pitcher-friendly park? Last season, he twirled an 1.82 ERA outside Citizens Bank Park, but his career home/road splits don’t reflect a significant difference.

He has dominated in eight career starts at Petco, albeit against weak Padres lineups. 

San Diego has a solid rotation nucleus in Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy, but there are no certainties after that. Odrisamer Despaigne held his own but posted a 5.31 ERA away from Petco. A.J. Preller rolled the dice on Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow in hopes of receiving healthy innings from one or the other. Don’t hold your breath. 

Young arms Robbie Erlin and Matt Wisler are also waiting their turn for a permanent promotion. San Diego is hardly bereft of options, but one can see why it would consider an upgrade after making several high-impact splashes on offense.

Chances are Preller already used up too much capital to repaint his batting order, but don’t say never on a guy who landed three big-name outfielders in one offseason.


Jonathan Papelbon

On paper, trading Papelbon is a slam dunk. Last-place teams have no need for 34-year-old relief pitchers set to earn $13 million, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. A team on the edge of contention, however, will derive more use from his services.

Two suitors have emerged in the Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers. While negotiations are believed to have hit a wall,’s Todd Zolecki assured that the Phillies “are still talking” to both squads:

Two sources said on Tuesday evening that the talks are alive, although the seriousness of those discussions is unclear. Yahoo! Sports first reported Friday that the Phils and Brewers were in serious negotiations. mentioned the Blue Jays’ interest. 

In the days since, reports surfaced that a deal with either team is unlikely. But that has not stopped them from continuing to talk about Papelbon.

Milwaukee could still re-sign free agent Francisco Rodriguez to resume the closer’s role, but it’s scouring the market after signing Neal Cotts to a one-year deal. Yet assistant general manager Gord Ash didn’t offer the most optimistic update about Papelbon, telling’s Adam McCalvy, “It’s there, but not much has happened lately.”

The Blue Jays don’t have last year’s closer as a fallback option. Casey Janssen already moved on, agreeing to a one-year contract with the Washington Nationals. In order to finally climb the American League East ladder, Toronto will need to bolster a bullpen that touted a 4.09 team ERA in 2014.

Papelbon does not come without his flaws. Once a lights-out stopper, his strikeouts per nine innings declined to a modest 8.55 last season. A steady dip in velocity, via FanGraphs, explains the decreasing punchouts for a man with a 10.34 career K/9 rate.

Yet he still managed a 2.04 ERA last year, and that tally has only veered over 3.00 once during 10 MLB seasons. Regression concerns will make some clubs a tad reticent, but Papelbon’s salary is a larger concern.

It wouldn’t be a major problem with a deal guaranteed to end after 2015. He also, however, carries a $13 million 2016 vesting option that will activate if he finishes 48 games this season. Last year, he completed 52.

If the Phillies can’t find a taker, expect an uncomfortable scenario where they monitor his appearances in hopes of avoiding that mark. If he could help Milwaukee or Toronto play October baseball, the looming option becomes less of a problem.

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