Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative Acquisition: Jonathan Paplebon

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is the busiest trade deadline in all of sports. What is fascinating to me about this is that it is the most arbitrary deadline around. Teams looking to improve their rosters for a post-season push clamor to get a deal done before the July 31st deadline to avoid *gasp* having to put players through waivers before can be traded anywhere. Certainly teams can and do use their waiver priority to block some players, but most players pass through waivers because teams fear being saddled with a big contract as happened to the White Sox back in 2009. Yet teams and players push to get deals done before the end of July, before they know what they are really getting into, if it is really a good idea, which brings me to the fascinating case of Jonathan Papelbon.


Papelbon has made it no secret that he wants out of Philadelphia. Working in his favor is that he is still putting up terrific numbers across the board. Complicating his trade is a hefty $13 million salary this year and an obtainable vesting option that would guarantee the same salary next year. With his large no trade protection the rumors are swirling that he wants the option picked up as a condition to waiving his no trade clause and/or he wants to close for his new team which would likely ensure the 2016 option vests. But, if he wants out of Philadelphia as bad as is reported and he wants to play for a contender, perhaps teams can get creative on a workable compromise.

While not the most common of practices, it is permitted for MLB teams to request and receive time sensitive negotiation windows in order to extend a player they are considering trading for. If the player and the new team can agree to the extension, the trade goes forward, if not it likely dies. I propose a team seeking Papelbon's services offers him a modification on that vesting option and making it a player option.

This presents both parties a potential out after the season if things do not work out, but gives Papelbon the added comfort of another well compensated year if he thinks the team will compete in 2016 as well. He clearly does not like playing out the string, so if he accepts the player option he will be able to see how the team approaches the off-season before deciding to commit himself. For teams the switch to a player option possibly opens the door for him to accepting a setup role, at least for this season, because he has control on his salary next year. A team is not going to get draft pick compensation from a mid-season acquisition and if he leaves, the team just saved $13 million.

What I suggest is not a common practice, trade deadline or not, in teams willingly giving up control on an option to get the best out of a player. Then again, Papelbon is unique in this era, a brash, fiery competitor who wants to win and no he doesn't want to be friends with opposing players after the game. In today's chummy game where batting practice seems like a friendly gathering and fraternizing with the enemy is not a sin because they are all part of the same Players Association, players like Jonathan Papelbon stand out as a throwback to an era where players threw at opposing players because they didn't like them, didn't want to like them, until they wore the same uniform. If a team wants to get the best out of Papelbon, the best option is to think outside the box, give up some control over next year because next year's problems are a long way off when you are trying to play deep into October.

Per MLBTR the Nationals agreed to acquire Papelbon. To facilitate the deal they lowered the option from $13 million to $11 million and agreed to pick up the option immediately. Supposedly, Papelbon will also move into the closers role while incumbent Drew Storen moves to a setup role.