Losing never feels good, even if you’re the most well-compensated player at your position. Following the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to the richest contract ever for a closer — a four-year, $50 million deal with a fifth-year option that can vest at an additional $13 million.
Papelbon has generally had good results, posting a 2.67 ERA in his two seasons with the Phillies, but he hasn’t been a beloved figure in Philadelphia the way he was in Boston. One reason is that Papelbon has been a rather outspoken critic of the Phillies. Last February, he said of the team’s clubhouse, “I haven’t seen any leadership.” In June, he questioned the team’s fundamentals. In July, he complained that he “definitely didn’t come [to Philadelphia] for this” after the Phillies lost their eighth game in a row.
On the air with WEEI’s Rob Bradford and guest host John McDonald on Thursday, Papelbon discussed the differences in culture between the two teams. He said:
“Look at the Red Sox last year. John [McDonald] will probably tell you the moment he walked into the Red Sox clubhouse there was an entirely different feel from when he left Philly. I’m not putting those words in John’s mouth by any means, but when you have a group of guys who go for 162 games plus spring training plus the playoffs, you have to have each other’s backs and know what he’s going to do before the next guy from you is going to do before he does it.”
Then he added:
“Then I go to Philadelphia and it wasn’t necessarily that way, and I know that I’ve gotten a bad rap, some of the guys will say I’m not a good clubhouse guy because I’ll get upset and I’ll say something, but I’ve always said what’s on my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever shied away from my beliefs. But I think some of it reporters in Philly maybe take a little bit different because I was used to saying that, hey, this is how I feel, we’re not winning and I’m not happy.”
With the exception of Jimmy Rollins, who has drawn as much criticism in Philly as Papelbon for being willing to speak his mind, the Phillies have had a comparably quiet core of players, choosing to lead by example rather than by words. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and Jayson Werth have all at one point or another been seen as a source of leadership on the team over the years and they’re not the type to be expressive on the field or through the media. It just doesn’t seem like Papelbon has fit in with the Phillies or in the city of Philadelphia at large.
That being said, the bigger concern is that he lost 3 MPH on his fastball since his last season with the Red Sox, which caused his strikeout rate to drop from an elite 34 percent to a pedestrian 22 percent. The Phillies can deal with a player who likes to talk a bit too much, but they cannot justify paying $26-39 million over the next two to three years to a player whose arm is on the way out.