The Tenth Inning Week 18 – Jonathan Papelbon ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
Before I get to this week’s column, I would like to personally send a note of thanks to Jonathan Papelbon. I knew I wanted to write something regarding this week’s trade deadline, but all weekend it looked more and more like I was going to be stuck with a standard, “who’s buying, who’s selling” gimmick that really doesn’t work for me. I’m not a reporter with an inside scoop on a team beat or a Rolodex full of MLB GM’s phone numbers. I’m a columnist, an opinion-giver – basically, I like to think of myself as a talk radio show on paper. I take stories, games, teams, players, or specific scenarios and give my unique take on them in this space here – for your enjoyment far more than for actually giving you any relevant, pertinent, previously unknown information. So thank you, Mr. Papelbon, for providing this week’s perfect opinion-starter.
For starters, Curt Flood and Marvin Miller would be proud. What began as a renegade idea from the MLB players’ union in the 1960’s and 1970’s has turned into the single biggest aspect of sports that directly impacts a team and its performance. I’m talking, of course, about free agency. The Miami Heat have three consecutive Eastern Conference championships and two straight NBA championships because of it. The New York Yankees are the only professional sports team with a $200 million payroll because of it. Teams like the New York Mets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Oakland Athletics, Denver Broncos, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Red Wings, and countless other teams are who they are – good, bad, great, or irrelevant – because of it. In actuality, every single team in all four major professional sports have developed their current identity, at least in part, because of free agency.
That’s why Papelbon’s comments are so interesting to me. In case you missed it, the Phillies’ closer – currently in year two of a four-year, $50 million contract – told a reporter from MLB.com that he “didn’t sign up for this,” speaking in reference to the Phils’ current eight-game losing streak that has all put ended talks of a resurgence into the postseason for the former five-time NL East champs. Ironically, it was Papelbon’s arrival that just so happened to coincide with the Nationals putting an end to the Phillies half-decade dominance of the division, but it would be foolish to lay that blame at the foot of the closer. Not having the two best hitters on the team (Utley and Howard) for most of the 2012 campaign is what ultimately ended the Phillies run, but nonetheless Papelbon missed the playoffs for yet another season, and with this year now almost sure to follow suit, it’s not necessarily surprising that he would be upset and/or frustrated with the lack of winning thus far in his tenure in Philadelphia.
The thing is, I’m probably one of the few people that disagrees with Papelbon’s assessment. He wasn’t drafted by the Phillies, so it’s not as if the franchise controlled his career for the first 5-8 years. He also wasn’t traded by the Red Sox to the Phillies, so again, Philadelphia didn’t own any previous rights to the righthanded closer. Instead, Papelbon took advantage of his first foray into free agency to sell his wares to the highest bidder – in this case, a cool $12.5 million per year for the next four seasons offered up by Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. In short, Papelbon DID sign up for this – this and exactly this – when he signed his name to that dotted line on the contract placed in front of him. He was not coerced, he was not forced, and he was not duped. He had 29 other teams for whom he could have possibly played, but he chose Philadelphia because Amaro and the Phillies signed for the most money. Even some of the less intelligent baseball fans could see that the Phils run was going to come to an end sooner rather than later as the age of the core group that captured the 2008 World Series continued to advance and the farm system’s best talents continued to be average role players at best. So why, then, did Papelbon think the Philadelphia really gave him the best chance to win?
In short, he didn’t. To be fair, baseball’s postseason is still the hardest to make even with the additional wild card team from each league. Only 10 out of 30 teams played beyond game 162, so the idea of any team being a “sure thing” to land in the postseason is a bit laughable. Take this year’s Yankees and Blue Jays, or the last two seasons from the Angels, or what happened to Papelbon’s own Red Sox in 2011. So yes, anywhere that the prized closer signed was not necessarily “guaranteed” to reach the postseason, and he was signing with a team that in 2011 won 102 games. But the claim that this “wasn’t what he signed up for” is a complete and total lie. He signed for the most money – he didn’t sign because he was guaranteed a winning team. And it’s not like he’s the only one – stories of free agents taking less money to stay with the team that drafted them or return to the team closest to home are the abnormal, not the normal. Typically, free agents poke around, get some offers through their agents, and then sign whichever one has the longest years and the most number of zeros after the dollar sign. Papelbon was no different in December of 2011, and any comments made today are not indicative of his mindset during the free agency period.
I’m sure Papelbon is frustrated with the losing. After blowing the save in the final game of the 2011 season that finished off a 7-22 September and helped the Red Sox complete one of the worst collapses in the history of baseball – when just one more win would have at least forced a one-game playoff with the Rays – I’m sure the former Boston closer was hoping that a quick change of scenery would be the recipe to a return to success. Clearly, that isn’t happening in Philadelphia, but for Papelbon to make the comment that it wasn’t what he signed up is ignoring the most basic fact in the whole case.
He was a free agent. No matter what happened (or happens) in Philadelphia, it is exactly what he signed up for.
Playoff “Dead” List
Three series to watch this week…
Three series to watch this weekend…
If the playoffs started today…
Check out my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday at ultimatecapper.com
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