Additional thoughts on the Jonathan Papelbon trade (Drew Storen fans won’t like it)

I wrote a quick analysis of the Jonathan Papelbon trade yesterday. You can read that here. In short: the pitching staff is stronger and price was right. Here are some additional thoughts.

1. Drew Storen needs to get over it. Storen clearly expressed his frustration with the trade during his comments after yesterday’s game. I understand Storen is a fan favorite and many fans feel the same way. I like Drew Storen too, but I’m afraid I can’t joint the chorus of fans who think Storen is entitled to pitch the 9th inning and the 9th inning only. Bottom line: this trade makes the Nationals a better team and that’s the only thing that matters. I understand Storen wants to pitch the 9th inning. That’s fine. Tanner Roark probably wanted to remain a starting pitcher. Anthony Rendon probably wanted to stay at third base. Players can have preferences, but they’re not entitled to anything. This leads to my next, more important, point…

2. The 9th inning is overrated. The current generation of pitchers (Storen included) grew up in a world where closers were venerated and every other reliever was treated as a second class citizen. Many fans seem to have this view as well (although the tide is shifting thanks to the sabermetric movement). A Nats fan on Twitter today equated this trade to Storen being benched. This is complete nonsense. Storen didn’t lose his job. His job is to pitch out of the Nats bullpen and get opposing hitters out. He has a same job, but in a different office in the same building. Pitching in the 8th inning requires the same level of skill as the 9th, and Storen has an opportunity to excel in this role. Yesterday, I cited the 2014 Royals as an example of a team with multiple “closers” who dominated the playoffs last year by having three lights-out relievers pitch the 7th, 8th,and 9th innings. Critics of this trade are focusing way too much on the 9th and not enough on the 8th inning where the Nats are considerably stronger on the mound. Of course, many critics of the trade also pointed to Storen’s financial situation, which leads to my next point…

3. Storen will still get paid. Many have argued Storen will suffer financially from this trade, as closers are compensated higher than “middle relievers” during arbitration and free agency. Well. Tyler Clippard, the Nats “8th inning guy” received $8.3 million this season–his final year of arbitration–despite being “demoted” to middle relief in 2012, where he only acquired one save in 2013 and 2014 combined. In fact, Clippard is 9th highest paid reliever in baseball this season. In total, five of the top 10 paid relievers in baseball earned their pay as setup men. The narrative is shifting as a new generation of general managers appropriately value performance more than a hallow statistic like saves. In any event, Storen has already acquired that “proven closer” label–to the extent teams still value that distinction. His first half this season puts him in that fraternity of relief pitchers ignorant general managers pay big money to pitch the 9th inning. Also…

4. This move is temporary. Papelbon is signed through 2016, which makes it likely Storen will be traded this offseason, probably to a team that needs a “proven closer.” As stated above, Storen is likely to command a elite relief pitcher money through arbitration, which makes it likely Rizzo will move his salary for assets controllable beyond 2016. If this sounds familiar, it’s exactly what happened with Tyler Clippard. Fans won’t like it, but the Yunel Escobar trade worked out well for the Nats. Rizzo has a good chance to fill holes in his roster this offseason by moving Storen, who will have a high trade value should he perform in the second half like he did in the first. Speaking of which…

5. I expect Storen to pitch well in the 8th inning. Storen pitched well as the “7th inning guy” last season prior to his assignment as the closer late in the 2014 season. Yes, Storen will need to adjust his mindset. But–and I mean this in the nicest way possible–if a move to the 8th inning causes Storen to mentally implode, he’s probably not the guy you want on the mound in the 9th inning of the World Series.

Finally, one note about Papelbon–you know, the guy the Nats actually traded for yesterday…

6. Papelbon really wanted out of Philadelphia. The financial details weren’t known yesterday when I wrote my review of the trade, but Papelbon is guaranteed $11 million dollars next season. Prior to the trade, Papelbon had a vesting option that would guarantee $13 million if he finished 14 more games this season, which seemed highly likely over two months of baseball. If money were Papelbon’s primary motivation, he would have stayed in Philadelphia and let his option vest. Instead, he accepted $2 million less to come to DC. All day yesterday we heard reports of “demands” by Papelbon to waive his no-trade clause to Washington. At the end of the day, Papelbon wanted this trade as badly as the Nats.

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