The Brewers may soon strengthen their uncertain bullpen, though it may not be enough for them to make waves in the NL Central this year.
Jeff Passan reports that the Brewers and Phillies are “in serious discussions” on a deal that would send Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Brewers. The 34-year-old righty does have no-trade protection, though it’s not clear whether the Brewers are a team to which he can block a trade, nor whether he would if he could.
Papelbon wore out his welcome in Philadelphia (capped off famously by a case of bofa), and the Phillies have been looking to dump him for a while now. Although his velocity has been down in recent years, he’s still been relatively successful, posting ERAs and FIPs no higher than 3.05 in his time in Philadelphia (though the 3.50 and 3.51 xFIPs the last two years suggest he’s been having some good luck with respect to the long ball).
Papelbon is owed $13 million in 2015, and, if the Brewers take on a healthy portion of that, then the trade return to the Phillies is going to be minimal. The real question is the $13 million vesting option for 2016, which vests if Papelbon finishes 48 games in 2015. Would the Brewers let Papelbon be their closer, knowing that it could cost them a huge chunk in 2016?
Technically, the Brewers are without a closer after Francisco Rodriguez left in free agency (though he’s not yet signed with another team). But they do have Jonathan Broxton, who could slide into the role – if I’m the Brewers, I’m probably looking for anyone else to close other than Papelbon, given that vesting option.
In any case, Papelbon probably would improve the Brewers for 2015, though not markedly so, and probably not beyond where their bullpen was last year (good, not great). Papelbon replaces Rodriguez, but the Brewers also lost effective lefties Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny.
ZiPS has the Brewers’ bullpen as a 1 WAR group, so this would help a little bit, but probably not enough to offset the loss of Yovani Gallardo in the rotation. FanGraphs projects the Brewers for just 76 wins in 2015 at this point, tied for the fourth fewest in baseball. In other words, adding Papelbon is a good move for the Brewers, but it may not make much of a difference.