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The advantages of keeping Jonathan Papelbon

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Virtually everyone is dying for the Phillies to trade Jonathan Papelbon. But as trade talks stall, some reasons why holding onto him wouldn't be the worst thing in the world either.

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There are potential playoff teams that need closers. The Phillies are a team that doesn't really need one, but has one of the most expensive and productive closers in the game.

Last week, one of the teams looking for a closer, the Milwaukee Brewers, were reportedly close to trading for Paps. Then, the talks cooled. Now, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, they appear to be heating up again, with one other team in the mix as well.

From Zolecki's piece...

Two sources said this evening that talks are alive, although the seriousness of those discussions is unclear. Yahoo! Sports first reported Friday that the Phillies and Brewers were in serious negotiations. FOXSports.com mentioned the Blue Jays’ interest.

In the following days, reports surfaced that a deal with either team is unlikely.

But that has not stopped them from continuing to talk about Papelbon.

In other words, don't get your hopes up. But it is encouraging that the Phillies are at least keeping the dialogue open with a couple of clubs.

By now, everyone knows the issues with dealing Papelbon. He has a vesting option for 2016 that any team on his no-trade list, like the Brewers and Blue Jays, would need to pick up. However, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal notes, the Phils may not be as motivated to eat a ton of 2016's cash as some would like them to be.

The Phillies are willing to include cash in trades – they paid a combined $5 million to purge shortstop Jimmy Rollins and outfielder Marlon Byrd and are prepared to pay a vast portion of first baseman Ryan Howard’s $60 million in any deal.

But why would the Phillies pay, say, an unnecessary $6 million on the vesting option when a more attractive financial and prospect package might become available in July?

The Phillies have yet to make a financial offer to the Brewers, according to sources. They are not under a mandate from ownership to trade Papelbon; they intend to make such a deal only if it is to their benefit.

So what if the Phils don't unload Papelbon before the season starts? What if they wait until July? Would that be the worst thing in the world?

Perhaps not.

If the Phils don't get exactly what they want now and decide to wait until the Trade Deadline, here are some of the potential benefits.

  1. If Papelbon continues to perform as well as he has, he'll have shaved about $6.5 million off his salary for any team looking to acquire him.
  2. If Papelbon's performance declines, the Phils could justifiably demote him from the closer's role in favor of Ken Giles, without the worry of Papelbon filing a grievance. And remember, Paps needs to finish 48 games this season in order for that '16 option to vest.
  3. If Papelbon gets hurt, that almost certainly makes him less likely to have that 2016 season vested. The Phils wouldn't be able to trade him, but they would be free of him after this season.
  4. If Papelbon stays in the closer's role, it would prevent the team from rushing Giles into a role that he may not be ready for just yet. It certainly wouldn't kill Giles to get at least another half-season in the set-up role in 2015.

There are lots of reasons to trade Papelbon, but most of them are optics. The team is already far under their payroll of last year, although as has been written by others, any money saved this year could go towards paying for Cuban star Yoan Moncada.

Still, Papelbon's $13 million this year is not pushing the Phils against the luxury tax, and isn't preventing them from doing anything on the field that they would otherwise like to do. It's just unseemly for what looks to be a 70-win team to pay a closer $13 million in any circumstance.

Making a move solely for optics is rarely a good one.

It's clear the Phils are trying to move Papelbon, and perhaps they'll be able to swing a deal with either the Brewers or Blue Jays. That would be great.

But if they don't get what they want, there are positives to not moving him, too.