Porting alter-ego, Papelbon joins Phillies
Right-hander inks largest contract ever awarded to closer
PHILADELPHIA -- Jonathan Papelbon considers himself a nice, intelligent man with a strong family background.
"He's kind of out there," Papelbon said.
The Phillies on Monday evening introduced Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50,000,058 contract to be their closer. And Papelbon introduced his pitching alter-ego, Cinco Ocho, who emerged during the 2007 season with the Boston Red Sox. One thing seemed certain as Papelbon spoke to reporters Monday: If he can replicate his pitching success in Boston in Philadelphia, it should be an entertaining four seasons.
Asked why Papelbon insisted on the extra $58 in his $50 million contract, he said, "I don't know. You're going to have to ask Cinco Ocho that question. I had nothing to do with that. I can give you his phone number if you need it."
Asked how he scored No. 58 from Phils left-hander Antonio Bastardo, who shares the same agents as Papelbon, he said, "Basically, I told my agents to tell Bastardo to give me the number or Cinco Ocho was going to kill him."
Asked about his ninth-inning intro music, which he said will change after having the Dropkick Murphys' "Shipping Up to Boston" play at Fenway Park, he said, "I might have to consult Cinco Ocho on that one."
Monday's announcement finished an interesting week in the Phillies' pursuit of a closer. There had been reports early last week they had reached an agreement on a four-year, $44 million contract with Ryan Madson. Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called that "unequivocally false." One report said Amaro told Madson's agent Scott Boras he needed team president David Montgomery to OK the deal before finalizing it.
Montgomery said it never got that far.
"That gives me a little too much power," Montgomery said. "The reality is, in any situation like this, Ruben is constantly briefing me. He indicated he was having discussions with several closer options, and they were going to have a tough time deciding which one to get."
Montgomery spoke of parallel negotiations, which makes sense after talking about the negotiations with sources close to Madson and Amaro. The two parties seemed to be talking parameters of a deal, going so far as saying a four-year, $44 million contract would work, but at some point, Amaro turned his focus to Papelbon, whom he considered the best closer on the market.
"We just felt that with Jonathan, he was someone who had a little bit more experience and had done it extraordinarily well for many years," Amaro said. "The fact that he's had the kind of success he's had in crunch time, playoffs, postseason, we felt this was the right choice and the right fit for us."
Essentially, the Phils decided the extra $6 million to acquire Papelbon made more sense to them.
Papelbon, 30, went 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA and 31 saves in 63 appearances last season with the Red Sox. He struck out a career-high 87 batters in just 64 1/3 innings and held opponents to a .207 average. Papelbon is the first pitcher in baseball history to earn 30 or more saves in each of his first six full big league seasons and is the fastest pitcher to 200 saves (259 games), besting Mariano Rivera (382 games).
Papelbon is 23-19 with a 2.33 ERA and 219 saves in his career. And he did it pitching in high-leverage situations in the American League East.
"What would anybody think of him?" Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "We got a premier guy -- a guy that's done it in the biggest stage, World Series games, doing it in Boston all those years. It's a nice reassurance that a guy has been through those wars and is battle tested in those regards. We're thrilled."
"I love everything about it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I like his energy. I like his determination. I like who he is. Our fans are going to really like him because he gets after it. He's accountable for what he does. He definitely carries himself in a very aggressive way. I think being a former hitter, he definitely sends you a message when he's on the mound that, 'I'm going to get you.'"
Of course, there is a sizable risk giving a hard-throwing closer a four-year, $50 million deal. Philadelphia just finished a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Brad Lidge, who spent much of that time on the disabled list. But Papelbon has never had surgery or been on the disabled list in Boston.
The Phillies pray it stays that way.
"Yeah, four years is a little uncomfortable, but on a player that's had this type of pedigree, this type of background and success, sometimes you kind of go the extra mile to do that," Amaro said. "We feel like with his history, with his health history, with the way he takes care of himself, we thought it was the right risk. Clearly, more risk when you add more years, but we felt he was the right guy to take a risk on."
The Red Sox decided to part ways with Papelbon after a catastrophic collapse to their season, which Papelbon called "one of the toughest things I've gone through in my career."
Boston had no serious discussions about bringing him back, which essentially made the Phillies the top choice for Papelbon and him a top choice for the Phils.
"We discussed a few other options," Papelbon said. "My agents called me every day with what could possibly happen and this and that. I think one day, I finally told them, 'I want to go play for the Phillies. Let's make this happen.' They called me two days later and they made it happen."
It's the largest contract for a closer in baseball history, larger than the five-year, $47 million contract the Toronto Blue Jays handed B.J. Ryan in 2005.
Amaro said the Phillies still have some flexibility to make a few other things happen this offseason. Re-signing Jimmy Rollins seems to remain a priority, although Philadelphia also had free-agent outfielder/infielder Michael Cuddyer in for a visit. It's unclear if the Phils have the money to sign only one or both.
"We've been pretty open and public about what we're trying to do to move forward as far as Jimmy is concerned," Amaro said. "Hopefully, we can take care of that business in the short term. I'm not sure what kind of timetable it's going to take. But we have some other things and flexibility to do it."
Amaro said he is comfortable with his bullpen, indicating they won't be actively pursuing more veteran arms, although he said they're still having conversations with Lidge's agent. He said if veteran Jose Contreras returns -- he had elbow surgery but is scheduled to begin throwing in January -- he and Papelbon should provide enough veteran leadership for Bastardo, Michael Stutes, David Herndon and others.
Papelbon is eager to get started.
Cinco Ocho is, too.
Asked why he pursed his lips before throwing a pitch, Papelbon said, "It just happened one day. I was trying to zone in. It just happened, man. I don't know where it came from. I've gotten some good feedback and bad feedback."
"And that's Cinco Ocho?" a reporter asked. "He's the nut job, right?"
"Oh, yeah," Papelbon said. "He's kind of a pain in the [backside] to deal with."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.