Philadelphia Phillies Trade Targets for Jonathan Papelbon


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies are likely to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon before the July 31 trade deadline. Who should the team receive in return?

As of July 8, the Philadelphia Phillies are 29-57, which means they own the worst record in baseball by a full seven games over the Milwaukee Brewers. The team’s Major League worst -131 run differential is a whopping 52 runs worse than the Chicago White Sox.

With an aging roster and a farm system that lacks depth behind top prospects J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola and Roman Quinn, it’s time for the Phillies to unload their high-priced veterans and rebuild for the future.

While Phillies ace Cole Hamels has been the biggest name on the trading block this season, teammate and closer Jonathan Papelbon is one of the most likely players to be moved before the July 31 trade deadline. And that’s just fine with the All-Star reliever.

"“The front office knows where my heart is and where my mind is,” Papelbon told CSN Philly this week. “And that’s to be with a contending ball club. The ball is in their court, so to speak.”“I think everybody knows where I’m at. I’ve always been straightforward that I want to go play for a contender and I’m not going to shy away from it. I feel like that’s my right and my prerogative to have that opportunity and, you know, it’s in their hands.”"

The 34-year old right-hander is ready to move, and there are sure to be plenty of contending clubs willing to trade for him. Papelbon is in the midst of a great season and is currently 1-1 with a 1.60 ERA across 33.2 innings in 32 appearances, though because the Phillies have struggled mightily Papelbon has just 14 saves this season in 14 opportunities.

So, what four teams are most likely to trade for Papelbon? And what should Phillies fans expect the club to get in return? Let’s take a look.

Next: Chicago Cubs

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Javier Baez. 2B. player. 9. . Second Base. Chicago Cubs

According to a June report by Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago Cubs were one of the first known teams to inquire about Papelbon this year. Doing so certainly makes sense for several reasons.

First, the Cubs are in the thick of a playoff race in the National League, perhaps a year earlier than most people expected. Also, they have a well-stocked cupboard of Minor League talent that could be used to acquire a big-name veteran like Papelbon in July.

Furthermore, Cubs president Theo Epstein knows Papelbon well from their time together in Boston, when Epstein was the general manager and Papelbon the closer for six seasons, including the 2007 World Champions.

Finally and most importantly, the Cubs need a closer. Manager Joe Maddon has implemented a closer-by-committee approach recently, though Jason Motte has gotten the majority of the save opportunities after Hector Rondon lost control of the job last month.

Motte is a suitable short-term solution, but Papelbon would be an obvious upgrade. The team also recently signed veteran stopper Rafael Soriano, but Papelbon would be a better option than him as well.

So who would the Cubs be willing to part with in order to solidify the ninth inning with Papelbon? The most obvious choice is second base prospect Javier Baez, who is hitting .314/.386/.536 with eight home runs and 29 RBI in 37 games for Triple-A Iowa but hasn’t played since June 6 because of a fractured finger.

Once the top prospect in Chicago’s system, Baez’s star has dimmed slightly and Addison Russell has surpassed him on the team’s second base depth chart. Baez hit nine home runs in 52 games during a two-month big league audition last season, but compiled a disappointing slash of .169/.227/.324 and struck out an eye-popping 95 times in 228 plate appearances.

Baez would be attractive to the Philles, and would be a natural replacement for 36-year old Chase Utley and the less than powerful Cesar Hernandez (who can also play the outfield) at second base.

Papelbon probably wouldn’t bring back a second big-name prospect from the Cubs, but the Phillies could possibly secure a low-level prospect such as Class-A infielder Daniel Lockhart, a blocked player like first baseman Dan Vogelbach (who won’t unseat Anthony Rizzo anytime soon) or a fringy utility man like Junior Lake or Arismendy Alcantara, especially if they are willing to toss another player into the mix.

Next: Toronto Blue Jays

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Like the Chicago Cubs, the Toronto Blue Jays reportedly showed interest in Papelbon earlier this year. In fact, the talks between Toronto and Philadelphia originated over the winter, so there is obvious continued interest on behalf of the Jays.

Papelbon himself went on the record in spring training to say he would be happy pitching north of the border.

"“Yes, Toronto interests me — if it interests (Phillies general manager) Ruben (Amaro Jr.),” Papelbon told Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia during spring training. “I know some of the guys on their coaching staff. They’re a good team. If Ruben can do a deal with them, I’d be interested.”"

Toronto is 44-42 and two games out of first place in the American League East. The Blue Jays’ bullpen has been so-so to date with a 3.55 ERA and has held opponents to an impressive .227 batting average through July 8, but the team could use an established closer down the stretch to replace rookie Roberto Osuna, who recently took over the role that has also belonged to Brett Cecil and Miguel Castro in 2015.

In order to secure Papelbon’s services, the Blue Jays might be willing to part with lefty Daniel Norris, who started the season in the Toronto rotation, but has been in Triple-A Buffalo since early May. Speedy outfielders like D.J. Davis and Anthony Alford may also be of interest to Philadelphia, especially if they decide to part with Ben Revere.

Matt Hague, who is on his way to the International League MVP Award with a league-leading .341 batting average and .427 on-base percentage to go with a .465 slugging percentage, five home runs, 52 RBI and 45 runs scored, would be an intriguing throw-in. The 29-year old corner infielder last played in the Majors in 2014 with the Pirates.

If the Phillies like their options in a possible deal with Toronto, they need to hurry. The Blue Jays have been rumored to also be in the mix for A’s reliever Tyler Clippard, Milwaukee’s Francisco Rodriguez and even San Diego’s Craig Kimbrel, among others.

Despite his production even contending teams aren’t likely to agree to pay all of what Papelbon is owed, which is more than $6 million for the remainder of this season and $13 million in 2016 should his option be triggered. That option will vest once Papelbon finishes his 48th game of the season and he has finished 29 games to date.

Therefore, Philadelphia may also have to eat a portion of Pabelbon’s contract to get a deal done with the Jays.

Next: Texas Rangers

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Jorge Alfaro. C. player. 95. . Catcher. Texas Rangers

With a record of 41-43 through their first 84 games this season, the Texas Rangers have been surprisingly competitive to this point. Because of the Houston Astros’ even more surprising start, Texas is seven games out of first place in the American League West, but the Rangers are still very much alive in the playoff picture.

Come July 31, Texas could make a very strong move for a postseason spot by adding a couple of pieces at the trade deadline – especially if one of those pieces could bring stability to a bullpen that has a 4.38 ERA this season, which ranks last in the American League and 29th in Major League Baseball.

Despite his recent demotion to Triple-A and the opinion of our own David Hill that he will not be a star in Texas, Joey Gallo isn’t a likely option in any deal for Papelbon alone – although that could change if the teams are willing to construct and pull the trigger on a mega-deal that includes Cole Hamels.

Assuming Hamels isn’t involved, a more realistic target would be Jorge Alfaro, who is one of the best catching prospects in baseball and would be a natural heir apparent to Philadelphia’s aging backstop Carlos Ruiz. The right-handed hitting 22-year old has a .253/.314/.432 slash with five homers and 21 RBI in 190 at bats in Double-A, and has the defensive chops to stay behind the plate in the long run, but is currently on the disabled list.

Nomar Mazara, a 20-year old left-handed hitting Double-A outfielder is also an ambitious option since considers him and Alfaro among the top 50 prospects in baseball, though a one-for-one swap for Papelbon is plausible. Currently, Mazara is hitting .290/.369/.458 with ten home runs in 78 games.

Unfortunately for Rangers fans, Texas has lost 13 of their last 18 games, and may find them selves on the selling end of trade deadline deals instead of the acquiring a high-end and expensive player like Papelbon. Of course, the team is just four games out of the Wild Card race, so there’s still plenty of time to right the ship and make a push before the deadline.

Next: Boston Red Sox

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Most fans and analysts expect the Boston Red Sox to be sellers at the trade deadline, not buyers. However, the last place Red Sox have won four of their last five games and seven of their last ten to move within five games of first place in the American League East. With one of the deepest farm systems in the game and even deeper pockets, Boston could easily make a deal for Papelbon if they decide to.

But why would the Red Sox want to trade for Papelbon? After all, closer Koji Uehara has been one of the brightest spots on the roster this season with his 2.61 ERA, 20 saves and 34 strikeouts in 31 innings and has allowed exactly one base runner in his last seven appearances.

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First, Papelbon is still one of the game’s best closers and he would be an upgrade over even Uehara, who is one of the most consistent late-innings pitchers in the American League. Also remember that Uehara is 40 years old and began the season on the disabled list, so that consistency could be interrupted at any moment.

Also, because Papelbon has a history with the Red Sox and expressed his feeling more at home in Boston than Philadelphia in April, the former Red Sox closer would make a good candidate to become the new Red Sox closer with a two- or three-year deal over the off-season.

Finally, the Red Sox have proven very capable of rebuilding quickly by making shrewd deadline deals that set the stage for World Series runs the very next season – specifically the 69-93 2012 squad that became World Champions in 2013.

As for a possible return for trading Papelbon, the Phillies could land any number of mid-level infield prospects such as Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, Sean Coyle or Michael Chavis. Of course, with Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford likely to man the left side of the infield in Citizens Bank Park for the next few years, infield isn’t a huge need for the Phillies. That means Boston would need to toss in an additional mid-level pitching prospect such as Teddy Stankiewicz or Jonathan Aro.

Other possibilities include high-end prospects like Rafael Devers and Manuel Margot, who may be available as well. Bryce Brentz, the 26-year old outfielder and 2010 first round pick, would be a nice throw in should Philadelphia package another player with Papelbon.

Reportedly, the Phillies wanted Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart in any deal for Cole Hamels over the winter. That obviously didn’t happen and neither is likely to be involved in any July swap, either. However, should Boston and Philadelphia renew talks involving Hamels, Triple-A left-hander Henry Owens isn’t untouchable and he’s Major League ready.

Next: Rangers Sign Cuban Free Agent Andy Ibanez