According to the Yes Network (Twitter link) and Comcast Sportsnet‘s Jim Salisbury (Twitter link), former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon has reached a contract agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The precise terms of the deal haven’t been confirmed but Salisbury believes Papelbon’s new contract is worth at least $50 Million dollars over four years. ESPN’s Jason Stark reports the contract includes four-years and $50 million of guaranteed salary and a vesting option for 2016 worth an additional $10 million. Papelbon is poised to become the most well paid relief pitcher in the history of the game, putting B.J. Ryan’s $47 million record contract (’05) to shame. In terms of yearly salary, the (average) annual $12.5 million he’s set to receive ranks second among relievers, behind Mariano Rivera’s $15 million paycheck.
Papelbon’s signing may come as a surprise to those who read last weekend’s reports that incumbent closer Ryan Madson had re-upped with Philadelphia– reportedly agreeing in principle to a four-year $44 million dollar contract. According to recent reports, Madson’s deal fell through when Phillies president Dave Montgomery declined to sign off on the expensive agreement engineered by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
Papelbon’s agents Sam and Seth Levinson of ACES, are infamously fast-moving negotiators. Particularly skilled in the arbitration courtroom and in bartering in general, the Levinsons rarely wait until the MLB’s winter meetings to find homes for the free agents they represent. They’re responsible for the contracts of brand-name players like Jorge Posada, David Wright, Scott Rolen and Kevin Millar.
Previously turning down lucrative contract extensions with the Red Sox in hope of striking gold on the free agent market, Papelbon’s departure from Boston was almost expected. Particularly after he capped off Boston’s historic September collapse, allowing Robert Andino’s game-winning single in the September 29th liver shiver that knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs, it became obvious that the soon-to-be thirty-two-year-old pitcher would look for a job elsewhere once he hit the free agent market.
After a career-worst campaign in 2010, Papelbon recovered last season and performed at the highest level of his career. His 2.94 ERA doesn’t do justice to his performance, as he posted a career-best FIP (fielder-independent pitching) of 1.53. Despite an uncharacteristically high .309 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), Papelbon managed his best homerun (.42 HR/9), walk (1.4 BB/9) and strikeout rates (12.17) since his incredible 2006 season. His 1.53 FIP and 2.16 xFIP were tops in the American League in ’11 and his 14.7 WAR since ’06 bests Mariano Rivera’s 13.9 mark, making (statistically speaking) him the game’s top closer.
The Phillies scored big with the Papelbon signing. The team’s achilles heal– besides Raul Ibanez– during the past couple of seasons has been their bullpen. Madson, though generally effective in ’11, is nowhere near the closer that Papelbon is. Beginning his career as a full-time reliever in 2004– a season before Papelbon made his first big league appearance– Madson has consistently pitched at a high level. However, his 8.8 fWAR is barely half of Papelbon’s immense 15.1. Considering the Phillies will pay Papelbon only a few million more than what they planned on forking over to Madson, the full-run gap between Madson’s 3.68 career FIP and Papelbon’s 2.60 suggests they got a great bargain