In what would be another instance of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer getting the old band back together, reports have surfaced that the Chicago Cubs have at least a passing interest in Philadelphia Phillies closer, Jonathan Paplebon.
While no deal is close, the possibility begs the question of whether the Cubs would be wise to move on this, or if they’re simply doing their due diligence on a player the front office obviously likes (Papelbon pitched in Boston from 2005-2011). This report surfaced after the Cubs signed reliever Rafael Soriano to a minor league contract, so whatever concern the Cubs are trying to address –most obviously at closer– they’re not presuming Soriano is going to get the job done.
This, in turn, begs another question: Does Jonathon Papelbon help the Chicago Cubs?
Performance wise, Papelbon is mostly a slam dunk. Career ERA under 2.50? Check. Postseason experience? Check. Still performing at a high level? Check. Has history with Epstein and Hoyer? Check and check. Other than his fiery temperament, there’s nothing too alarming about his play on the field.
His age of 34 is mostly a non-factor (for now) given the shelf life of short relievers, as even if the Cubs were to trade for him, they wouldn’t be looking for long-term solutions necessarily, but rather someone to nail down the position for a year or two.
The primary concern from a Cubs standpoint is who exactly would the Phillies want as compensation? As previously mentioned, Papelbon is putting up some seriously quality numbers. His ERA is 1.13, he hasn’t blown a save (12-for-12), has his highest strikeout percentage in four years (29%), and is even getting more ground balls than he ever has in his career.
That’s all meant to illustrate that the Phillies won’t let him leave cheaply. So while Papelbon seems an attractive potential acquisition, how much are the Cubs willing to let go to get him? I have no idea the type of prospects the Phillies would ask for, and could reasonably expect to get.
When the San Diego Padres traded for Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel early this season, the Padres had to give up a lot. Kimbrel is in his prime years, and was signed to a long-term contract, but the Padres had to take on $53 million in salary (Kimbrel and Melvin Upton), plus surrender their top prospect, a second, less exciting prospect, and the 41st pick in the draft. The Padres top prospect was only projecting as a mid-rotation piece at best, but with less money on the table with Papelbon, even if the Cubs took all the salary, the Phillies would presumably be asking for quite a bit. We won’t even mention that Kimbrel has been an erratic addition to the Padres’ bullpen and has not found the dominance he was enjoying with the Braves.
The reported “impasse” on a possible deal with the Cubs (or Toronto Blue Jays) is that the Phillies want to eat as much of Papelbon’s $13 million salary (of which he is still owed a little over $8 million, but also has a $13 million vesting option for next season) in return for higher-level prospects. Conversely, the Cubs, who have fairly deep pockets these days with room to spend, would be willing to take on more of Papelbon’s contract in exchange for a lesser prospect(s).
Even though it’s all contingent on who the Phillies are asking for, you have to suddenly like the names being tossed around for the back of the Cubs’ bullpen. And that’s even before Neil Ramirez gets back.