After several days of rumor and speculation, Tuesday afternoon the Washington Nationals completed a deal with division rival Philadelphia Phillies to acquire veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon. Specifically the Phillies sent Papelbon and $4.5 million dollars to Washington in exchange for right-handed pitching prospect Nick Pivetta. Washington immediately signed Papelbon to a contract extension for 2016 worth $11 million dollars, $8 million paid next season and $3 million deferred to 2017. Also the team designated catcher Dan Butler for assignment to clear a space on the 40-man roster and someone will need to be demoted from the 25-man roster prior to Papelbon’s arrival.
Jonathan Papelbon is a 34-year-old right-handed reliever in the midst of another terrific season in 2015, providing Philadelphia with a 1.59 ERA, 2.94 FIP and 17 saves in 17 opportunities over his 39.2 innings pitched. He has allowed only 31 hits and 9 walks this season against 40 strikeouts. A 2015 all-star and six-time all-star selection, Papelbon has been one of the best closers in baseball over his 11–year major league career with a career 2.32 ERA and 342 saves pitching for both Boston and Philadelphia. Furthermore Papelbon has built a reputation as a big-game pitcher with a 1.00 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 27 postseason innings.
Papelbon is making $13 million this season and prior to signing an extension with Washington, had a $13 million vesting option for 2016 if he finished 100 games over 2014 and 2015 (he currently stands at 86 games). It is expected that Papelbon will immediately take over the closer’s role for Washington, bumping Drew Storen to the 8th inning.
In exchange for Papelbon, the Washington Nationals are sending the Phillies RHP prospect Nick Pivetta, a player I watched last week ->http://natsgm.com/2015/07/20/scouting-washington-nationals-prospect-nick-pivetta/. The 22-year-old Pivetta possesses an ideal 6-5 220lbs frame and has a relatively simple, clean pitching delivery, though he struggles to repeat his motion consistently.
Pivetta possesses a quality 3-pitch mix consisting of a 92-95mph fastball, a 77-80mph curveball and a mid-80s changeup with some sinking action. His command is below-average but he has the potential to have an above-average to plus fastball and two average off-speed pitches in the future. The lack of a put-away off-speed pitch along with a present difficulty maintaining his release point limits his ceiling to a #4 or #5 starter in the big leagues. Still raw, this is a quality, projectable arm for the Phillies to add as they attempt to replenish their somewhat fallow farm system.
This swap is a classic trade deadline deal, as a non-contending Phillies team parts with an unneeded, expensive veteran in hopes of acquiring a prospect that can help them in the future. Pivetta is still raw and has flaws that limit his ultimate ceiling, but with a mid-90s fastball and a projectable body, he stands an excellent chance to pitch in the majors in the future. He has a ceiling of a durable #4 starter with a most likely outcome being a #5 starter or working in long relief.
Pivetta is a difficult depth piece to part with for the Nationals but in Papelbon they receive one of the best 15-20 relief pitchers in baseball and the Phillies are set to cover almost the entirety of his salary this season. By signing a fair-market 1-year extension, Papelbon can be a valuable member of next year’s bullpen or serve as a trade piece this winter.
While it is difficult to see current closer Drew Storen receive a demotion of sorts, this swap gives the Nationals one of the best 1-2 bullpen tandems in the majors. Furthermore the 20+ innings Papelbon will throw for Washington this season rather than other lesser relievers should make the team significantly better down the stretch and potentially difficult to score upon in a playoff series. Certainly the Nationals parted with a solid prospect, but they demonstrably upgraded their roster without parting with a large part of their future or adding to their current payroll, making this a solid trade for Washington.
NatsGM Grade –> B-Reaction to Mets’ Acquisitions of Clippard, Uribe and Johnson
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