Saturday, February 21, 2015

Papelbon News Comes Early This Spring


Papelbon Optimistic About 2015 – Jonathan Papelbon could not bring himself to do it. The Phillies' closer sauntered into the media room Friday afternoon at Bright House Field wearing a T-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. He zipped up the hoodie before he took a seat in front of numerous reporters and TV cameras, concealing the T-shirt's two-worded message. Papelbon caught the eye of a reporter who had seen it, and he smiled. The shirt read, "Fan Favorite." "I don't mind it," Papelbon said later. "I'll be the Ric Flair villain." The T-shirt was funny because Papelbon has had a rocky time in his three seasons in Philadelphia, despite posting 106 saves (seventh most in baseball) and a 2.47 ERA (16th out of 137 qualifying relievers) in that span. He has criticized the organization, expressed his bewilderment at why anybody would want to play on a losing team like the Phillies, and got himself suspended for seven games late last season for making an obscene gesture as he left a game following a blown save at Citizens Bank Park. Papelbon is not exactly Richie Ashburn in fan circles. The Phils have tried unsuccessfully to trade Papelbon for almost two years. They will continue to try to trade him during Spring Training, and failing that, they will try to trade him before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Papelbon made no trade demands Friday, nor did he have any harsh words for ownership, the Phillies' front office or coaching staff. He did say, however, he believes Philadelphia can win in 2015 and he will continue to be a positive influence in the clubhouse. (By all accounts, Papelbon has been a positive mentor for the team's young relievers.) Papelbon refuses to believe the Phils are rebuilding for the future, despite the fact that team president Pat Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have said countless times over the past few months that is exactly their plan. "I still think we can compete," Papelbon said. "Is that crazy for me to think that? You tell me. I'm still not so sold on this entire rebuilding. I know that that's one of the things that myself and some of the veterans that are going to be coming into camp want to probably sit down with Pat, Ruben and Ryno [manager Ryne Sandberg] and say, 'Hey, you know, let's get a little bit better feel on the state of the organization and let's come up with a plan and go one way or the other.' I just think we're kind of in limbo now." The reality is the Phillies are building for the future, whether Papelbon likes it or not. In Papelbon's words, he did not come to Philadelphia for that. He signed a four-year, $50 million contract in November 2011, becoming the highest-paid closer in baseball history, because he expected the Phils to compete for a World Series. Instead, they have not had a winning season since 2011. "I don't have any regrets at all coming here," Papelbon said. "I get to play in an intense environment every day. I was the highest-paid closer in baseball. Why would I regret any of that? For me, I still have the opportunity to compete every day at a high level. So I don't have any regrets. "Look, we're all professionals. Not a single one of us are going to sit here and say, 'Oh, we're not out of here. Oh, we're still here and they're rebuilding,' or sit here and complain. I think every single one of us has too much pride, too much fear of failure, too much ego, really, to just lay down. I know I do, so I don't think that's going to happen or we'll see any of that." But that does not mean Papelbon would not welcome a trade. A big sticking point has been his contract. Papelbon will make $13 million this season, and if he finishes just 48 games this season, his $13 million club option for 2016 automatically vests. The Phillies must agree to eat the right amount of salary for the right prospect in return. Papelbon also has a limited no-trade clause. The Phils had talked trade with the Brewers and Blue Jays recently. Papelbon could block a trade to both teams, and there have been multiple reports he would require the club option to be picked up to approve a deal. Papelbon initially said he would go to a team without requiring the option to be picked up, but he later clarified. "It depends on where I'm going, what the situation is with that other ballclub, what my situation is here," he said. "The whole equation comes into play. I would go anywhere that wants me. If Philadelphia still wants me and they want me to be a piece of this puzzle and continue to be a leader in this bullpen, I love my chances of staying here and competing. But if Toronto wants me, if Milwaukee wants me, whoever wants me, they're going to get someone who knows how to compete and go play ball and lay it on the line. That's basically what it boils down to for me." So what are the chances Papelbon is with this team at the end of the season? "I don't know," he said. "Maybe you can use that Magic 8 Ball that Cliff [Lee] had [Thursday]."

Papelbon IS The Closer – Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Ryne Sandberg have said unequivocally that Jonathan Papelbon will be their closer in 2015. "Pap is here to come in and close games," Sandberg said. "I've had good conversations with him. His mindset is to do that with the Phillies." It has been a question worth asking. Papelbon needs to finish only 48 games this season to automatically vest a $13 million club option for 2016. That should be a cinch, if he is healthy and continues to close. Papelbon has finished no fewer than 52 games each of the previous eight seasons, and has averaged 56.4 games finished in that span. The option is noteworthy because the Phillies have had problems trying to trade Papelbon due to his salary. He makes $13 million this season, plus the potential for $13 million more in 2016. Teams do not want to pay that much for a closer. Many have wondered if the Phillies could simply demote Papelbon for Ken Giles, who had an impressive rookie season last year. The Phillies could say Giles is getting the job as part of a youth movement, which would scuttle Papelbon's chances at the option. That would make Papelbon more desirable in a trade. Papelbon said he would be surprised if the Phillies approached him during the season and said they planned to make Giles the closer. "I think that they know my stance on closing," Papelbon said. "That's what I am. I'm a closer. I think if the team decides to go that route, then so be it. Then they go that route. I'll continue my route with this Major League career that I've had and move on." But again, the Phillies have said that is not happening as long as Papelbon is performing. He has posted 106 saves (seventh-most in baseball) and a 2.45 ERA (16th out of 137 qualifying relievers) in his three seasons in Philadelphia. If the Phillies suddenly pull him, despite him pitching well, he very well could file a grievance with the MLB Players Association.

Morgan Looking To Make Comeback – If everything had happened as planned, if there had been no setbacks, no shoulder surgery, no rehab, this could have been Adam Morgan's third consecutive Spring Training with the Phillies. Instead, it is Morgan's first since 2013, when he impressed nearly everybody in camp. But Morgan, who the Phillies selected in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, suffered a left shoulder injury in May 2013. He tried rest and rehab, but the shoulder never improved. Morgan finally had surgery in January 2014. He rehabbed for months before pitching 16 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League, essentially getting his feet wet again after an extremely long layoff. "It's definitely a privilege and a blessing to be back throwing again," Morgan said Friday morning at Bright House Field. "Obviously, there's still room for improvement, but I'm headed in the right direction. I'm happy with the progress each and every bullpen. I'm getting better each time. The ball is coming out better. I'm excited to see what this season brings." If Morgan, who turns 25 next Friday, had not sustianed the injury, the highly-regarded left-hander almost certainly would have made the jump to the big leagues in 2013. That season started with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan in the rotation. Halladay and Lannan suffered injuries, which allowed Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd, Ethan Martin, Zach Miner and Raul Valdes to make a combined 42 starts. Morgan left Spring Training that year ahead of each of those pitchers on the depth chart. "I thought about it, but everything happens for a reason," Morgan said. "That's what I hold on to going into this year. I feel like I got caught up in that two years ago, worrying too much about it. Now just do what you do every five days. Everything will take care of itself." Morgan hopes to return to form now that he finally feels healthy. He is not restricted in any way. He can compete and work like he has in the past. Morgan certainly knows he needs to pitch significant innings in the Minor Leagues before can get back on the big league radar. He knows he needs to stay healthy and be effective. But at least he has a chance. "At the beginning, you could not see the end in sight," Morgan said. "Everybody tells you you'll learn from this. No way. No chance. This is brutal. But now I can look back and say I learned from it. I learned patience and really cherishing the fact that I can be on a team competing every five days. You don't realize how much you miss that until it's gone."

The Phillies will look to rebound this season from a 73-89 record last year. While uncertainty abounds, there is little question that the franchise is in rebuild mode based on the moves and statements that have been made during the offseason. The only question that remains is whether or not the young and veteran talent on the team can work together to disprove Gillick’s predictions either this year or next.

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