Papelbon, Bailey and the A’s Bullpen That Never Was
Yesterday, before everyone wanted to become trading partners with Tony Reagins, there was an article by Jon Heyman on SI.com where he went through a few of his offseason rumors. In there was this nugget of information:
“The Red Sox seriously considered trading Papelbon, perhaps to the A’s or White Sox, but Oakland wound up signing Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to bolster its bullpen in what turned out to be a solid winter for the A’s despite their failure to land third baseman Adrian Beltre.”
This took me aback because, for a team that has valued closers so little (and to me unless they are named Mariano Rivera that is a smart move) why on earth would we want Jonathan Papelbon, a guy that just a few days ago signed a $12M deal after posting his worst numbers as a Major Leaguer. Late in the fall, Theo Epstein said that Papelbon was a “really good pitcher” and that the Red Sox were happy to have him in the pen alongside Daniel Bard. Despite that there have been trade rumblings all winter long as the Red Sox added former Pale Hose closer Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to an already crowded Red Sox bullpen.
Why on earth though would Oakland have wanted Papelbon? Papelbon is more of a strikeout pitcher than present A’s closer Andrew Bailey (10.41K/9 to 9.05K/9) and has more issues with control as of late as well (3.76 BB/9 in 2010 to 2.39 BB/9). Papelbon is a very good pitcher but last year wasn’t a great year for him, he saw his K rate go up, but also his walk rate went up to the highest he’s ever had it, balls left the park at a higher rate than he’d ever had before (0.94 HR/9 and 9/1% HR/FB). His Left on Base Percentage also slipped to a career low 68.7% (something you don’t expect out of a high strikeout pitcher and certainly don’t want from a guy being brought in to shut down a game). Bailey’s numbers compared to Papelbon’s weren’t all that different overall with Papelbon getting a slight edge in WAR (1.2 to 1.0) which could be accounted for by Bailey’s missing time due to injuries, Papelbon pitched in eighteen more innings.
Instead of getting the overpriced Papelbon, the A’s were able to secure two guys in Grant Balfour in Brian Fuentes to truly add depth to the bullpen. Had Oakland received Papelbon I have to make the assumption that Billy Beane would have dealt Andrew Bailey perhaps even to the Red Sox as part of the trade to acquire Papelbon. But I have to also wonder what would it have taken to get Papelbon and how would that have been made worthwhile, because like the trade from yesterday you’re not just talking about trading players and their skills, Papelbon has an albatross of a contract for the A’s (though prior to three days ago it would not have been clear just how much in arbitration it would be most reports were pegging it as starting at $10M and going up from there) and would have been by quite a wide margin the A’s most well compensated player.
I, for one, am glad that this is a deal Oakland did not make.