Phillies close the deal with Papelbon

Posted: November 15, 2011

IT WAS JUST after 6 p.m. yesterday when Jonathan Papelbon, in the unlikely combination of a blue suit and red Phillies hat, walked off the Citizens Bank Park pitcher's mound. There were no fans in the stadium, no runs to protect on the scoreboard and not yet the burden that will come with finishing games for the most celebrated pitching staff in baseball.

Just give him 5 months. All of those will arrive soon enough.

Papelbon will have at least 4 years closing games for the Phillies, who formally introduced the righthanded pitcher yesterday after finalizing a 4-year, $50,000,058 contract with a vesting option for a fifth year. The extra 58 dollars are more for vanity than greed. Papelbon, or as he explains, his alter ego "Cinco Ocho," will wear No. 58 in Philadelphia as he did in Boston. His signing concludes a 4-year run of Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson at the back end of the bullpen.

"These guys showed me that they want me, and it really didn't boil down to going back to the Red Sox and seeing if they wanted me back," Papelbon said. "I knew these guys wanted me. I made my decision right then and there. There was no hesitation."

Papelbon said the Phillies were No. 1 on his list, although it's easier to say such after signing a deal that makes him, based on annual salary, the second highest-paid closer in baseball, behind the Yankees' Mariano Rivera. And it's not only the money that's important, but also the years. For the second consecutive offseason, the Phillies bent an unwritten rule to sign a pitcher for longer than 3 years. Papelbon, who turns 31 on Nov. 23, will be 34 when the contract expires.

"Four years is a little uncomfortable," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "But for a player like this, a person who's had this type of pedigree, this type of background of success, sometimes you got to go the extra mile to do that."

In a deep closer market that included Madson, the Phillies were the first to act. Team president David Montgomery disagreed with the notion that the club set the market, although he acknowledged that the Phillies wanted to act swiftly when a full complement of closers was available. At least last week, it was reported the Phillies would do so by re-signing Madson. There were even rumors that a deal was in place before Montgomery nixed it, which Montgomery denied yesterday.

"That would give me a little too much power," Montgomery said. "The reality is, in any situation like this, Ruben briefs to me what the discussions are. He indicated to me that he was having discussions with several closer options and they were going to have a tough time deciding which way to go."

Montgomery was complimentary about Madson yesterday and described parting with a player as one of the difficult parts of the job. The Phillies made closer a priority, and Papelbon is 3 months younger than Madson and has more of a track record of success.

With the Red Sox, Papelbon saved 219 games, recorded 509 strikeouts in 429 1/3 innings and maintained a 2.33 ERA. He was the fastest to 200 saves in major league history and helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series. In 18 postseason games, he's allowed runs in only one appearance. Papelbon has never had a disabled-list stint with the Red Sox, although the team did shut him down in September 2006 to rest an ailing shoulder.

"His durability. His consistency," Amaro said when explaining what separated Papelbon from the rest of the closers on the market. "The fact that he's had postseason experience in a very high-pressure situation. All those things were important to us, because he's kind of gone through the wars. He's made the last pitch when it's necessary, and any time you have somebody who's made the last pitch, that means a lot."

Pitching coach Rich Dubee was not concerned that the length of the deal will mean the Phillies are paying for a decline in Papelbon's velocity, because he thinks many pitchers are in their prime and rounding into shape at 31. Dubee was similarly unconcerned that Papelbon allows more fly balls than ground balls because "swing and miss is nice, too," and Papelbon placed fifth among American League relievers in strikeouts per nine innings last season.

For his part, Papelbon enjoyed one of the finest seasons in his career to establish himself as the top closer on the market. He said he did not give much consideration to the reports about the Phillies' negotiations with Madson, even when it appeared they were set to pay Madson, $11 million per season. Papelbon allowed his representatives to do their work. When it was presented to him that the Phillies were a realistic option, Papelbon implored them to finalize the deal quickly.

"The guys in this clubhouse, the way they play the game of baseball is the way I play the game of baseball," Papelbon said.

Now that closer is finalized, the Phillies have other issues to settle. Most pressing is shortstop, where they remain in conversations with free agent Jimmy Rollins. They're also interested in upgrading the offense, and Amaro said the Papelbon contract does not preclude the Phillies from making another splash.

"Obviously, shortstop is a position we'd like to shore up," Amaro said. "I've been pretty open and public about what we're trying to do to move forward as far as Jimmy is concerned. Hopefully, we can take care of that business in the short term. I'm not sure what kind of timetable it is going to take, but we have some things [we want to do] and the flexibility to do it."

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