Heading into the 2015 season, the Yankees' bullpen was predicted to be the biggest strength of the team, and so far it has performed as well as expected. The bullpen has a strikeout rate of 26.7% and has been worth 3.6 fWAR, trailing only the Dodgers in both categories for best in the majors. Yet as good as they have been, there is still room for improvement. Recently, Jonathan Papelbon has been very vocal about his desire to be traded away from the last-place Phillies. Should the Yankees look into making a trade for the always controversial Papelbon?
If the Yankees are planning to upgrade the bullpen, Chris Capuano or Bryan Mitchell are the most likely candidates to lose their current jobs. Capuano was signed to a one-year deal worth $5 million during the offseason when the fifth spot in the rotation was still undecided. He competed with Adam Warren and others during spring training in an effort to earn the spot, but ended up on the disabled list with a quad strain that kept him out until May 17th. When he was finally healthy, Capuano jumped into the rotation to make three starts (during which he gave up nine runs) while the Yankees waited for Masahiro Tanaka to return. He has pitched better since moving to the 'pen, but he's sporting a 3.45 ERA, 3.59 FIP and 1.34 WHIP as a reliever. It wouldn't be much of a loss if the Yankees decided to replace him with someone better, aside from paying out what's left on his contract. On the other hand, if the Yankees wanted to keep Capuano, they could elect to send Mitchell back to Triple-A. Between the two, Mitchell has outperformed Capuano, even though he's had fewer chances. Through nine and one-third innings, Mitchell has a 2.89 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 8.68 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9. Mitchell deserves to stay, but if forced to pick between them, the Yankees might choose to keep the veteran.
There are several relievers in Triple-A who the Yankees could call up to improve the bullpen, but if they do look externally, Papelbon could be the best option. Although he would not be a fan favorite, there's no denying that Papelbon is a damn good pitcher. Through 33.2 innings pitched this season, the 34-year-old has a perfect 14 saves along with a 1.60 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 9.36 K/9, 1.87 BB/9 and 0.53 HR/9. The Phillies are 21 games back and don't show any signs of improving any time soon, so it makes sense that Papelbon wants off the team. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr said there are "live discussions" going on with other teams regarding Papelbon, so they are at least considering the idea of a trade. Of course, Papelbon has a partial no-trade clause in his contract that reportedly includes 17 teams, but he would likely waive it if given the chance to join a contender. Though there is the question of whether he would be okay with not being the closer, since Andrew Miller has excelled in that position.
While the Yankees and Phillies have a long history of trades between them, they've only worked together once over the past nine years, back in 2012 when the Yankees acquired Chad Qualls. If the Yankees did trade for Papelbon, it wouldn't have to be a short-term rental because he has a 2016 vesting option worth $13 million. The option vests if he finishes 55 games in 2015, or 100 games between 2014 and 2015, and he's at 98 right now. He's also owed $13 million this year. The Phillies' asking price might be too high, but it's easy to imagine a bullpen of Miller, Betances and Papelbon being the best in the majors.
What kind of deal would you make for Papelbon? Would you rather see the Yankees improve the bullpen internally?