With low expectations coming into the year, the Phillies haven’t disappointed the seers and prophets of Major League Baseball. They are 13 games back of the Mets in the NL East and currently own baseball’s worst record. Outside of the Eagles signing Tim Tebow in April, the most noteworthy news out of Philadelphia in past two and a half months has been the trade rumors surrounding the Phillies, including discussions for Ben Revere, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and, especially, Jonathan Papelbon.
With the possibility of trade looming around Papelbon each day, the 34-year old right-hander has shown no sign of worry. Papelbon is on pace to put up his best numbers since arriving in Philadelphia before the 2012 season. While his save total is predictably down (though he has saved 13 of his team’s 23 wins), Papelbon has excelled in other areas. His 10.5 strikeouts per 9 innings is his highest since 2012, the last time he made an All-Star team. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 18 and his 1.01 ERA ranks 4th in the National League (min. 20 games played).
Papelbon has been the undisputed leader of a bright spot in an otherwise tumultuous season so far. Phillies’ starters rank 27th in the Majors in ERA at 4.78, while Papelbon has helped the bullpen to 3.34 ERA, 11th best in baseball.
While Papelbon’s contract may be a bit hefty, teams haven’t seemed to be deterred by it. The Cubs and Blue Jays are known to be scouting the closer, and interest from other teams will undoubtedly come out until a trade finalized. Papelbon is owed the rest of the $13 million he is due this year, as well as $13 million next year should his vesting option kick in. Papelbon would need to finish 26 more games this season (for a grand total of 48) for his option to be enforced. Papelbon hasn’t finished fewer than 49 games since his first full season in Boston in 2006.
Papelbon has long been considered a dominant closer in baseball, and he is showing why this year. He has a chance to end the year in the top 10 in career saves, and with a trade seeming inevitable at this point, he may be attempting to cement his name in the record book with a contender.