Early on in his career, the Rays saw plenty of Jonathan Papelbon, and probably a lot more than they would have liked. Papelbon closed the door on many Rays losses throughout his time with Boston, some of which with incredibly high stakes. However, Papelbon has also been on the mound during some of the better nights for the Rays, such as Game 162 when he blew a two run lead and ended the Red Sox season.
Over the years, Papelbon has been one of the most dependable relievers in the game and, if not for an incredibly poor attitude, he'd be one of the most coveted pitchers in the game.
Papelbon's personality was on full display toward the end of the 2015 season when he abruptly applied an illegal choke hold on Bryce Harper. In the following days, Papelbon was suspended by the Nationals for four games, something the MLBPA is appealing.
His poor attitude is a defining characteristic, but he's also a decent pitcher, and the latter might make the former become available at an incredibly cheap rate.
First, a quick recap of Pap's career path: drafted in 2003, Papelbon worked his way quickly through the minors and was twice named one of baseball's top-100 prospects by Baseball America. He made his debut in 2005, then in 2006 finished in second the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Papelbon would serve as a dominating closer for the next five years with Boston, including a World Series in 2007, but with his production steadily declining.
Following the 2011 season, Papelbon became a free agent and quickly reached an agreement with the Phillies for four years at an expensive rate, with a vesting option for a fifth. After three quiet and solid years on the mound, Papelbon's ego would shine through as a couple of frustrated incidents made Papelbon an expensive player to have to deal with, as the closer didn't shy away from making comments about having to pitch for a non-contender.
Finally, at the 2015 trade deadline, Papelbon was traded to the Nationals for a low ranking prospect, displacing the team's current close while they took on half of his remaining salary for the rest of the year. Papelbon would be unable to finish the year quietly, as he did his best to endear himself to the Washington fans and players.
It's worth reiterating, Papelbon put his hands on the throat of the team's best player and the league's likely MVP, just a few days after Papelbon also intentionally hit Manny Machado in the head with a pitch. He would be suspended for the rest of the year, reaching the following career stats:
Although they haven't come right out and said it, the Nationals are desperate to get rid of Papelbon, but to do so they have to deal with a few complications.
First, when they acquired the controversial closer, they vested his option for the 2016 season in which he'd make $8 million, with an extra $3 million differed to 2017. The $8 million is relatively cheap considering his pitching output, particularly when compared to the other deals that have been handed out this off-season, but a team would have to be willing to deal with his attitude. Already his presence may have cost Washington a couple of notable free agents who didn't want to have to deal with Papelbon in the clubhouse.
So in any deal, the Nationals would have to either eat most of his remaining salary, or sweeten the pot by including a descent player/prospect along with him. Something has to balance the cost of his caustic personality.
Second, the Nationals have a limited market to deal with, as Papelbon has a lengthy no-trade clause which includes 17 teams, leaving only 12 for them to work with without having to seek approval of Papelbon. Those 12 teams are the Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Reds, Astros, Royals, Angels, Mets, Cardinals, Padres, Mariners, and finally the Rays.
Not all of those teams have much of a need for a strong reliever, but the Rays specialize in taking pitchers that no one else wants and turning them into productive players, and even sometimes, nice stories. Yes, he could bring negative press, and there is always the possibility of him attempting to put Steven Souza is a suplex.
But if the Rays can turn this into an opportunity where the player is essentially free, or encounter a Bronson Arroyo trade opportunity, is it worth the risk of a volcanic moment in the dugout?
Closers are so expensive on the trade and free agent market, the Rays are already looking to off-load one of theirs, Jake McGee or Brad Boxberger. Here's how those three compare:
If the Rays were able to obtain ship out McGee or Boxberger for a hurge return and then acquire Papelbon for next to nothing -- with his contract being taken care of by Washington -- or even for receive a king's ransom, it might be worth the risk.
A counter argument might be that Papelbon should not be thrust upon any second year manager, but that might do the Rays skipper a disservice.
Kevin Cash also has experience with Papelbon as he caught him in 25 games in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, Jim Hickey and Tom Foley have seen plenty of Papelbon over the years as well.
I know it's an unpopular opinion, but I feel the Rays aren't in the position to turn down cheap quality pitching, and there have been several players over the years who have gone to St. Pete with questionable past, but have turned their careers around, so why not Papelbon?