Nothing embodies the interminable slog of a lost season like an expensive closer warming up for a game in which his team is doing six or seven runs in the ninth inning. He's not coming in to notch a precious save, or hold a lead. He's just coming in to the game so that his arm doesn't fully decay.
The camera was kept on Jonathan Papelbon the entire time he was yawning while warming up in the bullpen.— Andrew Desiderio (@desiderioDC) July 19, 2015
Each time Jonathan Papelbon would trot in, we would be reminded of the oft-repeated baseball truth that there are fewer money-sucks than a $50 million closer on a team pacing itself for a resoundingly last place finish. At his initial signing, Ruben Amaro probably thought bringing in Papelbon was a real exclamation point after negotiating with Ryan Madson for five minutes. This was the five-time NL East champion Phillies, remember, so players wanted to come here, get paid, and win championships.
Obviously, that vision of a glorious future turned into a purgatorial, three-year trudge culminating with some aggressive crotch-fondling, and by the end of it, getting Papelbon out of town was a priority. Somehow, he was swapped out for a pitching prospect and quickly became a Washington Nationals problem instead of a Philadelphia Phillies problem.
His likely heir - young, awkward, homegrown, likable Ken Giles - was also made a victim of the rebuild, despite the possibility that he may have been a part of it as well. "Value" right now for the Phillies means "what can we get for this guy" as much as, if not more than "what can this guy give to us." When the Astros were ready to to make a trade for Giles, the Phillies, despite Giles' youth and talent, felt he was more valuable to them for what he would bring in. And now, the closer's role in the Phillies pen is open.
By default, someone will get the ball in the ninth inning, but for a team that has no plans to set the world on fire for a season or two, anyone who does fall into the role and perform amicably will be most useful to the team as a trade asset. If somebody inexplicably wanted to keep their role as the Phillies' top late inning reliever, then they'd have to struggle a bit; not enough to lose their job, but enough to keep them off contending teams' watch lists. That would be weird. But with the way reliable pitching is stalked in this league, it won't take a lot of success to generate interest.
On the roster currently is David Hernandez, who threw 33.2 innings in relief for the Diamondbacks in 2015, allowing 33 hits and 18 runs while walking 11 and finishing seven games with no saves. In 2014, he did not throw any innings for anyone because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. From 2010-13, he finished 77 games, with a gem of a 2012, throwing 68.1 innings with a 2.50 ERA and 4.45 SO/W.
If 2012 David Hernandez can make an appearance, the Phillies will receive a few phone calls. But regardless, he is widely - too widely - believed to be the man for the job.
The Phillies don't have a closer's role waiting to be nabbed; they have an audition stage for someone to climb onto, get three outs consistently, and move onto a real bullpen somewhere else. Jim Duquette is throwing bounce back candidates in your face, like Fernando Rodney and Neftalí Feliz. Assuming the amount of money they seek is sane, that process makes sense. Anyone outside of a small coven of promising younglings who produces well for the Phillies right now is headed for the trading block and it's on Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail and that whole restructured front office to determine how active or passive he is in getting them there.
In all likelihood, it will be Hernandez out there in the ninth, but anyone fitting the same mold as a Rodney or Feliz would due. The closer is a luxury item that belongs on a better team. Often, the pitcher who finishes the game winds up with the label, in the same way that whichever starter leads a rotation is deemed the "staff ace" even if that starter is a cruel representation of the word "ace."
As long as there is a warm body to shove out of the bullpen gate to finish the ninth, the Phillies won't need a definitive closer; but if somebody wants to punch through enough opponents to turn themselves into a trade asset, they should feel free, as it would benefit both them as a player and the Phillies as a rebuilding team. But the importance of the Phillies going out of their way to fill the role is minimal.