UPDATE, 4:30 p.m.: A trade that would bring Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies to the Nationals is nearing completion, a person familiar with the situation tells the Post’s Barry Svrluga. There are several moving parts in the complicated deal.
ORIGINAL, 1:00 p.m.: The Nationals have cast a wide net in seeking bullpen help and, as of late Tuesday morning, they have made progress in talks to acquire Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, according to a person familiar with the situation. Fox Sports first mentioned the progress between the two teams.
The Nationals have also been linked to Reds closer Aroldis Chapman and Padres closer Craig Kimbrel, but Papelbon is the most intriguing given his situation in Philadelphia and the presence of closer Drew Storen in Washington. Not only is Papelbon in the same division — though that hasn’t stopped Nationals Manager Mike Rizzo in the past — but Papelbon, 34, has unusual conditions around a trade.
Papelbon, who has a 1.59 ERA and 17 saves, has lobbied to be traded for some time, including at the all-star game earlier this month. According to reports, including CSN Philly, Papelbon can block trades to 17 teams, including the Nationals. Papelbon, known for his fiery and gristly personality, has also said he would block a trade to a team if he wasn’t the closer.
A major reason why? Papelbon’s $13 million option for 2016 vests if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 across the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He has finished 34 games this season and 86 between 2014-15. If he remains a closer, he not only keeps the high-profile role but gets money guaranteed next season. One possible compromise that might ease a trade to the Nationals would be if his vesting option was guaranteed ahead of time, giving him the money without requiring him to finish games.
Although the Nationals could use bullpen help, they don’t necessarily need a closer. Storen is in the midst of an excellent season (29 saves in 31 chances and a 1.73 ERA) in his first full season back in the closer’s role, a job he worked hard to regain after the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano and gave him the role in 2013. Storen pitched well in a set-up role last season before taking over for struggling Soriano in September.
The Nationals bullpen has been just around league average this season. But they have struggled at times getting the ball from the starter to Storen and the team is fully aware of the importance of a shutdown bullpen, as the Royals proved last October. Although closing is a lucrative role, sometimes the toughest match-ups come up in the seventh or eighth innings.
Storen has stumbled in the playoffs, blowing key leads in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS and Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS. Papelbon has seven career postseason saves, including three during Boston’s 2007 World Series victory, and a 1.00 ERA in 27 playoff innings. His last playoff appearances was in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS and he blew that save.
In the past, the Nationals have not added significantly to their payroll during the season. The front office has pushed ownership in some cases. And Papelbon is owed a large sum of money wherever he lands. The Phillies, one of the worst teams in a baseball and needing to restock the farm system, have reportedly shown a willingness to eat salary in order to move players.
It is currently unclear where things stand in trade talks around Kimbrel or other relievers, but the Nationals are working hard to tweak the bullpen.