I know, I know. After years with the Red Sox and being just completely unlikeable most of the time, you'd probably say "no way" to the idea of trading for Jonathan Papelbon. I wouldn't even fight you on it, but he's at least worth looking into as we approach the trade deadline. Now that the Yankees have gotten rid of David Carpenter, who just did not become the reliever they needed him to be, the New York bullpen is extremely lacking in right-handed middle relief options. With Andrew Miller hurt–and who knows for how long–the Yankees could use some serious firepower and Papelbon might be able to offer some.
As big of a joke as the Phillies have become, and despite how much we like to make fun of Papelbon, he's still one of the best closers in baseball. Sure, maybe that contract he signed was ridiculous, but you can afford to overpay for a reliever as long as you're winning. Too bad the Phillies became terrible almost as soon as they signed him to that deal. Now after several seasons, it would appear that the Phillies are finally ready to trade their closer and they're even willing to pay some of his contract in order to get a deal done. They have spoken to the Blue Jays and Cubs, but nothing has come together yet.
While paying a portion of the remaining $8 million left on Papelbon's contract seems like a worthwhile investment, the biggest obstacle for any trade is going to be his vesting option for 2016. If he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games between 2014-2015, he gets an additional year at $13 million and any acquiring team is going to make damn sure that doesn't happen. He currently needs to finish only 22 more games before his option kicks in, so the sooner the Yankees–or any team–acquire him, the sooner they can control his, and their own, destiny. The Phillies might allow him to continue to close out games right up until the deadline, so the longer he stays there, the less flexibility teams will have with him. Acquire him now and you might be able to use him as a part-time closer up until he's close to reaching the mark. The Yankees don't need another closer, since they have Dellin Betances and, hopefully, Andrew Miller before long, but at the moment they could use someone who can close if the needed and help bridge the gap.
Of course, since we're dealing with Ruben Amaro here, the Phillies will ultimately be asking for something either unrealistic or just not worth it–especially for a team who already has a closer. Yankee ownership might not be too into the idea of adding longterm payroll, but they might (ugh, yes, might) be ok with something short-term. Would it be worth it to take on a part of Papelbon's contract and give up someone like Bryan Mitchell or Jake Cave or Ramon Flores, etc.? There's no right answer. The unfortunate part is that the Yankees might have to get serious sooner than they feel comfortable with due to Papelbon's contract, the level of interest that might surround him, and their current need for both right-handed and back-end relievers. Acquiring him sounds like overkill, and a little bit awful, but it could make up for other weaknesses that the Yankees might not be able to improve upon in-season. It wouldn't be that painful, right?