Nationals Agree to Acquire Jonathan Papelbon (UPDATES: Semi-Complicated Deal)

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Nationals Agree to Acquire Jonathan Papelbon (UPDATES: Semi-Complicated Deal)

Chicago Cubs

jonathan papelbon philliesAt last check, there were three teams rumored in on Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon: the Cubs, the Blue Jays, and the Nationals.

The latter team seemed to make the least sense, given that they’ve got an entrenched closer (Drew Storen), and, because of a vesting option tied to games finished (i.e., the last pitcher in the game), Papelbon is unlikely to approve a trade to a team that will not use him as closer.


I’m not sure how you enforce that after the trade is completed (is the Players Association going to fight aggressively for Papelbon and not Storen, for example?). The Nats can say yes, sure, we’ll do it, but what’s really to hold them to that? What if Papelbon blows a couple saves?

The more reasonable approach is simply guaranteeing the $13 million option for 2016 and having the Phillies pay some of it down. But, of course, I’m sure the Phillies don’t want to do that.

In the meantime, the Cubs still make sense for Papelbon – who cannot block a trade to the Cubs – but only if the Phillies pay down some of that $13 million option (which would almost certainly vest with the Cubs). Again, I’m sure the Phillies are currently trying to find any way possible to deal Papelbon without having to include significant cash (because it’s hard to see him netting an elite prospect either way; good prospect package? Yes, but not elite, even with money included).

If Papelbon does wind up going to the Nationals, that’s notable for the NL playoff races, not only in the East but also in the Wild Card. The aggressivelydealing Mets are just two games behind the Nationals, which could leave either team in the Wild Card race. The better the Nats get, then, the slightly worse it is for the hopes that the second Wild Card lands with the Cubs.

UPDATE: It sounds like things are continuing to progress, though it’s tricky with the Nationals for all the reasons mentioned above:

UPDATE 2: Sure sounds like this is happening:

UPDATE 3: Yes, it’s happening:

In other words, the way they resolved the issue I raised above is that the Nationals agreed to guarantee Papelbon’s option, but he’ll take less than the $13 million it was going to otherwise be (seems like it would have been more fair – and more palatable to everyone – to change it to a player option at something like $8 million, but what do I know?).

Depending on whom you asked, Pivetta was a 10-20 range prospect in the Nationals’ system, and he has big league starter upside. He only just reached AA and is a little raw, so he’s probably a ways away from that. As near as I can tell, he’d be comparable to some of the Cubs’ projectable High-A/AA starters (non-Pierce Johnson, non-Duane Underwood division), and maybe a touch better.

At first glance – which isn’t alway accurate – this not a particularly compelling return for the Phillies, even if they’re saving the money. Then again, maybe that’s all they were really looking to do. If the Cubs really liked Papelbon, they could have easily met or exceeded this offer. If the Phillies weren’t willing to eat any salary, though, and depending on how much Papelbon will now get in 2016, I could understand the Cubs preferring to reserve their (still somewhat limited) resources.

But, yeah, it’s a little bit of a bummer. The Cubs could use an arm like this in the pen, both this and next year.

FINAL UPDATE: Best guess here is that this was simply too much for the Cubs to commit (or more than they wanted to commit) to Papelbon in 2016:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.