There were many, many potential closers on the market this morning. None had signed yet. None made the sort of money Jonathan Papelbon did last year, have the mileage on their arms that he does and most of them aren’t his age. Yet, somehow, Ruben Amaro decided that Papelbon needed a four-year, $50 million deal.
You OK with that, Philly fans? You OK with Papelbon getting one more year and $13 million more than Brad Lidge got on his last deal?
Not to say that Papelbon is bad. He’s not. Had a really nice bounceback year in 2011. The real issue here is a four-year deal for a closer of any stripe. Those are pretty rare and rarely have they ever worked out. Joe Nathan had a decent one at the same age as Papelbon. As Alex Speier noted in a column the other day, though, 11 closers have been given multi-year deals worth $9 million or more. With the exception of Mariano Rivera, they just haven’t worked out and most have been fairly disastrous. And that’s just multi-year deals, not four freaking years.
I’ll grant that Papelbon could be a moderate improvement over Ryan Madson in the near term, but it doesn’t make them markedly better as a team. It certainly doesn’t make them any younger, as this deal takes Papelbon through his age 34 season. It doesn’t help the Phillies bottom line by damn sight, and it’s already pretty heavily-loaded with big salaries owed to aging players.
So the question is why? Why these dollars to this dude? Why, when there are other holes to fill on this team — offense is a concern, pitching not nearly as much — do the Phillies need to go out and get an expensive Proven Closer?
A few weeks back the Washington Nationals designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment the morning after he threw his glove into the ground and glared at the Nats dugout in frustration after giving up a homer in a blowout win against the Mets. He was later traded to the Athletics. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said at that time that he thought Kelley was trying to show up his manager and that there was no room for that sort of thing on the team, offering an “either you’re with us or you’re working against us” sentiment in the process.
Today the Washington Post talks about all of the Nationals’ bullpen woes of late, and touches on the departure of Kelley as being part of the problem. In so doing, we learn that, on the night of Kelley’s mound tantrum, he and Rizzo almost got into a physical confrontation:
Rizzo headed down to the clubhouse and confronted Kelley, according to people familiar with the situation. The argument became heated, including raised voices, and eventually it almost became physical, according to people familiar with the exchange. Adam Eaton got between the two of them and separated them before things could advance further . . .
Might I point out that, the fact of this emerging now helps to vindicate Brandon Kintzler who, the day before, was traded away, some say, for being the source for negative reports from inside the Nats’ clubhouse?
That aside, the article does not make anyone look good, really. Rizzo had the backing of his team with the Kelley incident, but the overall story — how did the Nats’ bullpen, which was once a strength — get so bad? — does no favors for Rizzo. Mostly because he seems to have thought that they had so much extra bullpen depth that they could afford to deal away Kintzler, which he says was a financial move, not a punitive trade for being a media source.
Question: when was the last time you heard a baseball man say he had too much relief pitching? Especially today, in which the bullpen has assumed such a prominent role? Seems rather unreasonable to cut relievers when you’re trying mightily to come back from a sizable deficit in the standings, yes?