Phillies’ Deal with Jonathan Papelbon Exemplifies Overvaluing of Closers

November 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

If baseball is all about winning games, then the closers market in Major League Baseball has lost its bearing completely. Jonathan Papelbon‘s four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies is a prime example of this. 

I don’t question that Papelbon will be effective this season, and also in 2013, at the least.  There are still two questions the make me skeptical about this contract: 1. Will he be effective enough to justify a $12.5 million salary? and 2. Will he be effective enough through four years to justify a $50 million investment?

Evaluating Papelbon’s effectiveness is not a matter of comparing him with the other closers in Major League Baseball. I think Papelbon is the best closer out there this year, in a free-agent class of closers that’s pretty deep. He has the big-game experience and he’s coming off one of his best years in a string of consistently good years, pitching in one of baseball’s biggest and most demanding markets.

However, Papelbon’s contract with the Phillies is a prime example of how overrated the closer has become. Need the Phillies be reminded that the St. Louis Cardinals won a World Series without a designated closer throughout the 2011 season? Even Jason Motte, who won the ninth inning role with the Cardinals by year’s end, won it by closing out nine of 13 save opportunities. That is unimpressive, to put it best. 

I’m not writing off the value of the closer position on a baseball team, but I’m also not writing it up to $12.5 million a year. Papelbon will close more games given the opportunities than a Phillies bullpen that attempts to find a closer through committee would. But that doesn’t justify his value.  

For example, if the Phillies spent $5 million on a bullpen arm, and decided to part ways with Jimmy Rollins, they could have plenty of money to sign Jose Reyes. Adding Reyes would lead to more Phillies victories, even if they go into the season with an unsettled closer situation. Or, they could sign Rollins and add Carlos Beltran. This too would make them more dangerous than simply re-signing Rollins and having Papelbon to close games. 

Where the Papelbon deal looks even worse is in the long term, as he is is due $50 million over the next four years. Today, Buster Olney discussed the possibility of the Phillies being forced to trade Cole Hamels, or watch him walk away at the end of this season. If Olney is right, and the Phillies cannot keep Hamels, Papelbon represents a choice by management that the closer role is more important than their third starter.  

Trading Hamels, particularly in this pitching-shallow offseason, could bring a hefty return to the Phillies, but they cannot replace the value of Hamels. Certainly not through the addition of Papelbon or any other closer (yes, that includes Mariano Rivera, or any other name you would suggest). Hamels had the ninth-best ERA in MLB (2.79); he had the third-best WHIP (.99) and 19th-most Ks (194 in 216IP).

I have no doubt that Papelbon will, at the least, be an effective closer for the Philadelphia Phillies. But that’s not the issue with his contract. The issue is that closers throughout MLB are being overvalued and overpaid. In the end, you’re looking for someone to pitch one inning in less than half your games. They should be paid appropriately. 

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies