With the July 31 trade deadline fast approaching, speculation about possible trades has begun to ramp up. Given the Detroit Tigers’ decision to designate closer Jose Valverde for assignment, the rumor mill is naturally focused on who the Tigers might acquire to replace him. If they decide to trade for a closer rather than ride it out with Joaquin Benoit, Jonathon Papelbon of the Philadelphia Phillies would be a good choice. Several media outlets are reporting that the Tigers are already in talks with the Phillies about just such a deal.
As of June 30, Papelbon had 15 saves in 19 opportunities and a 2.05 ERA in 30 appearances. In 2012, he converted 38 of his 42 opportunities while posting a 2.44 ERA in 70 games. Those are solid numbers to be sure.
That the Phillies are 39-44 and nine-and-a-half games back in the NL East adds fuel to the rumor mill fire. It may not yet be time for Phiadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. to throw in the towel on this season, but sometime between now and the July 31 trade deadline it could become time. If so, the Phils might consider moving the 32-year-old closer.
Papelbon would be no bargain. He is currently under contract for 13 million in 2014 and 2015, with an option for another $13 million in 2016. However, if Tigers owner Mike Illitch is “all in” for this season, he might be willing to belly up to the bar with the cash.
Under the Radar?
However, the question remains, “What other than cash would the Tigers have to give up?”
There is speculation that to get Papalbon the Tigers would have to give up not only a young starter, Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly, but also one of their top two young position players, Avisail Garcia or Nick Castellanos, and even that might not be enough.
Others, including yours truly, think it’s more likely that Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski will rely on his penchant for successfully snagging talent flying just under the radar. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are good examples.
It’s almost certain that there will be a trade of some kind. Without a shut down right-hander to share time with Benoit in the eighth and ninth innings, the Tigers’ chances of repeating as AL champs are slim and none. But I doubt it will be for an established closer. Look for Dombrowski to deal for a less pricey, high quality back end guy, currently flying under the radar, who might get hot in the closer slot.
I like Luke Gregerson of the San Diego Padres. The right-hander is a late inning specialist who also has experience closing. For his career, he is a strike-out-an-inning guy, having punched-out 318 in 315.1 innings.
Much of the groundwork for a trade has already been done. Dombrowski and his Padres counterpart A.J. Hinch reportedly had lengthy discussions about a deal that involved Gregerson and Tigers’ starter Rick Porcello in the offseason. Offers were exchanged but no deal was made. It might be time for Dombrowski to give Hinch another call.