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Papelbon staying in Philly ... for now
They need to add a reliever, not subtract one.
The Phillies are in the midst of a mini-surge, even without one-time National League MVP Ryan Howard. They have won five of six to close within 7.5 games of first place in the NL East, and 5.5 of the second wild-card spot.
The Phillies are a respectable 45-46. If they are at or above .500 by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, it will be hard for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to justify taking the team apart.
Yet, one move would be prudent regardless of how well (or how poorly) the Phillies play over the next few weeks: Trading for a late-inning reliever who is under control through at least 2014.
If the Phillies remain in the race, they must upgrade their bullpen. Their relievers have combined for a 4.65 ERA this season, second-worst in the majors. For them to pass the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, they need more reliability in the late innings.
But even if the Phillies slip in the standings and sell at the deadline, it makes sense for them to add a reliever. One of the aforementioned pitchers could close for the Phillies in 2014, if not this year. And that’s a significant statement because Papelbon — the current closer, with a contract through at least 2015 — may become available if Amaro decides to sell.
The Phillies would save money by trading Papelbon and acquiring a cheaper replacement. And the decision on Papelbon may wait until August, since his $13 million salary in each of the next two years could help him clear trade waivers after the July 31 deadline.
If Amaro trades for Axford or Henderson now — when he still has Papelbon — he could tell Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin that he views the pitcher as a setup man, with a commensurate prospect price. But if Amaro waits until after a theoretical Papelbon trade, other GMs will know he’s dealing from the unenviable position of not having a closer in place for next year.
If Amaro wants to win now, win in 2014, or consider trading Papelbon at any point between now and next Opening Day — or some combination thereof — his next step should be to trade for a late-inning reliever.