A pivotal change could be looming for the Philadelphia Phillies and for once, it isn’t all bad.

Ken Rosenthal reported earlier that the Phillies are trying to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon in order to get out from under his contract. Handcuffed to a pricey contract that would make Nelson Rockefeller blush, Papelbon is owed $26 million over the next two seasons with a $13 million vesting option for 2016. 

Aside from the rich contract a team would inherit if they were to deal for Papelbon, things are made much more complicated due to the contentious atmosphere Papelbon is partly credited to bringing into the Phillies clubhouse.

So who would be interested in an overpriced reliever who is beyond his prime and known to bring a party pooper’s attitude into a clubhouse?

Realistically speaking, only time will tell.

It is true that many clubs are looking to bolster their bullpen but as we see with the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves, teams have found a more cost-effective way to do so.

Therefore it is highly unlikely that Papelbon is dealt without the Phillies swallowing a major portion of his contract. 

Papelbon’s velocity has declined for two years in a row. At 33-years old, he is no longer the young pup with the ferocious competitiveness that we once saw in Fenway Park. From 2006-09, Papelbon averaged 38 saves per season on top of a 1.74 ERA and 10.73 K/9 rate.

From 2010 through 2012, Papelbon’s numbers slowly trended downward. In those three seasons, he averaged a 3.09 ERA to go along with 35 saves per year.

Things appeared to hit rock bottom in 2013. For the first time in his career as a closer, Papelbon failed to reach 30 saves. He managed to finish with a respectable 2.92 ERA, but a meager K/9 rate of 8.32. 2013 was the first year the righty failed to strike out at least nine batters per nine innings.

Needless to say, Papelbon is trending in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, the remainder of his contract is comparable to that of Joe Nathan—who recently signed with the Detroit Tigers.

So once again, who would take on the challenge of reforming Papelbon into one of Major League Baseball’s elite closers?

First and foremost, the New York Yankees should be considered as potential trade partners. For starters, the Yankees’ farm system is nothing to write home about, but they would be doing the Phillies a favor by helping take Papelbon off of their books.

Mariano Rivera has retired and the Yankees still are floundering with regard to who will handle the closing duties. While it appears that David Robertson is primed to take over the ninth inning for the Bronx Bombers, nothing is yet written in stone.

Robertson will turn 29 this April. He has just 8 career saves under his belt. While he has turned into one of baseball’s most prolific relievers, nobody can be certain he has the guts it takes to lock down the final three outs of a ballgame.

Another possible destination for Papelbon is the Texas Rangers. With Nathan moving on to Motown, the Rangers are stuck in a tough situation. They are likely to lean on oft-injured Neftali Feliz to be their closer, but Tanner Scheppers is another in-house possibility.

Making a deal work between the Rangers and Phillies would be a daunting task. The Rangers are likely unwilling to be left on the hook for all of Papelbon’s remaining contract. Therefore, the Phillies would have to be willing to eat a majority of the remaining deal and possibly the entirety of Papelbon’s vesting option should it kick in for 2016. Such a scenario doesn’t make much financial sense for Philadelphia.

Finally, the Seattle Mariners appear to be all hands on deck. After signing Robinson Cano and apparently being in the mix for David Price, the M’s could use a solid option to solidify their bullpen.

Seattle blew the seventh most saves in 2013 (23), so the bullpen is in flux. The conundrum plaguing Seattle is an attempt to become relevant for the first time since Lou Piniella was the manager.

Speculation aside, it is going to be difficult for the Phillies to move Papelbon. The deal he was signed to a couple of winters ago is decimating the Phillies’ potential to move forward. 

If anything, it is another indictment on the front office in Philadelphia. The contracts given to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Mike Adams look bad, but so does Papelbon’s. It will take a lot to move Papelbon this offseason. 

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