Papelbon and Lester

Dave · December 29, 2005 at 6:43 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Finnigan reports in the Times this morning that the Mariners have shifted their attention from Bronson Arroyo or Matt Clement to one of Boston’s two top pitching prospects, Jon Lester or Jonathan Papelbon, as the swag they’re hoping to extract in exchange for Jeremy Reed.

To be honest, I still wouldn’t make the trade. The annointing of Papelbon and Lester as elite young pitchers is quite premature. Let’s take a look at them objectively, shall we? We’ll start with Papelbon, whose solid performance out of the bullpen for the Red Sox down the stretch has led to a significant amount of hype.

In 2003 he was a 4th round pick by the Red Sox from Mississippi State University, where he had spent his entire college career as a reliever. The Sox used his short season debut to stretch him out and convert him into a starting pitcher. He spent 2004 in Sarasota of the Florida State League, the most pitcher friendly league in professional baseball, and had few problems, ranking 2nd in the league in strikeouts and ERA. After the season, Baseball America ranked him as the 14th best prospect (8th among pitchers) in the FSL. This year, he split the season between Double-A and Triple-A and showed significantly improved command, though his strikeout rate fell as a result. The Sox moved him back to the bullpen to help with their stretch drive, and he pitched well and showed that he’s ready for a job in a major league bullpen right now. BA ranked him as the 7th best prospect in the Eastern League after the season.

His fastball reportedly sits at 90-94, and his second best pitch is either a split finger or a slider, depending on who you talk to. His change-up and curveball are both show-me pitches, so at this point, everything he throws is hard. There’s not a real offspeed pitch to talk about. He’s also shown himself to be a flyball pitcher, both in the majors and in the minors.

Papelbon is essentially the Red Sox version of Clint Nageotte. Power pitcher without a good offspeed pitch, low to mid 90s fastball, lots of scouts prefer as a reliever. Papelbon has slightly better command, but Nageotte showed some groundball dominance this year, so those can essentially cancel each other out. Would you trade Jeremy Reed for another Clint Nageotte?

Moving on to Jon Lester, who grew up in Puyallup and is one of the best local prep products the area has produced. Lester was a 2nd round pick by the Red Sox in the 2002 draft, though they paid him well over slot money to sign. He spent 2003 in the South Atlantic League at 19, and while he held his own, he showed that he had significant work to do. In 2004, he moved up to Sarasota and pitched significantly better, holding his walk rate steady but seeing his strikeouts go up by 50 percent. Command was still an issue, but he had the dominance to overcome the walks. This year, at age 21, he was moved to Double-A Portland and had his best year as a pro. He continued to trim his walk rate and raise his strikeouts despite pitching against advanced competition. After the season, he was ranked by BA as the 4th best prospect in the Eastern League.

Lester throws 90-93 from the left side and uses a cut fasball at times, and while he throws a change and a curve, neither one are major league pitches right now. He’s essentially beating people with his fastball. His command is still a bit of a question mark, and he missed time with shoulder soreness in June.

Lester and Papelbon are good pitching prospects. But that’s what they are. I don’t subscribe to the “There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect” mantra that lame analysts have adopted to explain away their ignorance, but there is a huge amount of attrition involved with young arms. Before the season, BA ranked Papelbon as the #91 prospect in baseball, and Lester was not included in the top 100. Clint Nageotte was #73 on the same list.

Things have changed in the past 12 months, and both Lester and Papelbon will rank well on the 2006 list, I’m sure. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that these guys are rare elite arms. They’re solid, good pitching prospects. But these guys aren’t special. Almost every organization has a guy like Papelbon or Lester. There’s a lot of 90-94 MPH arms with developing secondary pitches and mediocre command running around out there.

When you trade a hitter for a pitcher, you’re taking on a lot of risk. It can be worth it, if the upside or need of the team dictates that the pitcher is worth it. But Papelbon and Lester aren’t significantly better than the arms the M’s have done a nice job collecting over the past few months. With Nageotte hopefully healthy, and Bazardo, Foppert, and Carvajal being added in the past 6 months, the M’s have a fairly decent crop of upper level pitching prospects.

They don’t need to trade a major league everyday player at a position they have little depth for another surplus arm. The best thing Bill Bavasi has done as a GM is build a stockpile of arms in the upper minors, and he’s done it without paying a high price for any of them. The M’s don’t need to divert from this strategy.

Just say no to trading Reed to Boston.


281 Responses to “Papelbon and Lester”

  1. Jeff on December 30th, 2005 4:12 pm

    But how do you feel about Moyer?

  2. strong silence on December 30th, 2005 4:19 pm

    How do you feel about Superm…er..Moyer?

  3. DMZ on December 30th, 2005 4:43 pm

    I will continue to evaluate the Garcia trade until the outcome is known. I’m sorry that you equate analysis with flogging.

    Bringing up your distaste for a trade in every remotely-related topic is not analysis by any stretch. It’s not interesting, it’s not topical, and most of all, it’s boring and annoying. It’s like wanting to flog Beltre every game thread — we’ve discussed this over and over, and your position’s well-established. Let it go. Really. It’s okay.

    And what a nice, condescending closing clause for us to enjoy. Thanks for your sorrow.

  4. Jim Thomsen on December 30th, 2005 4:49 pm

    I really, really hate the Varitek-and-Lowe-for-Slocumb trade.

  5. eponymous coward on December 30th, 2005 4:54 pm


    It’s not analysis if you beg the question of Garcia being a free agent at the end of 2004 and potentially leaving us with only a draft pick (possibly a sandwich one, depending where he goes).

    Consider that the Mariner front office is more likely to know the attitude of Freddy and his agent about a new contract between them than you…

  6. Smegmalicious on December 30th, 2005 4:57 pm

    Jim, you’re not seeing the bigger picture of that trade.

  7. Jeff Nye on December 30th, 2005 5:02 pm

    Jim, you’re right.

    We should’ve traded them for Ryan Howard. 🙂

  8. Dave in Palo Alto on December 30th, 2005 5:03 pm

    I despise the Steve Whitaker — Lou Piniella trade.

  9. Jim Thomsen on December 30th, 2005 5:08 pm

    And Darren Bragg for Jamie Moyer? What the hell was up with THAT?

  10. eponymous coward on December 30th, 2005 5:10 pm

    I wish we had kept Mark Langston and tried to resign him at the end of the year. I mean, really, Brian Holman and Gene Harris were TOTAL washouts, and that was 2/3rds of the deal right there.

  11. chrisisasavage on December 30th, 2005 5:10 pm

    Just because Arroyo had a sub 4.00 ERA in the past doesn’t mean he will have anything like it in the future. Year to year ERA correlates less than things like SO BB and HR to ERA. That’s why the Arroyo to Franklin comparisons. Franklins ERA has gone 4.76, 3.56, 4.02, 3.57, 4.90, 5.10 so far. Arroyo had a WORSE FB rate than Franky last year. Arroyo had a terrible K/9, which dropped ALOT from the year before. If he pitched like in ’03 I’d say he’s a lot better than Franklin (but not worth Reed). If he pitches like he did in ’05 he’s practically the same pitcher. If you use his 2 year K/9 K/BB and what not (he’s only been an SP for 2 years) he’s Joel Pineiro. I’m not trying to make this an analysis of any kind, just pointing out ERA does not correlate well year to year, SO, BB, HR do. Do a google search on Voros McCracken and DIPS.

  12. chrisisasavage on December 30th, 2005 5:11 pm

    UGG, I meant HIGHER FB rate.

  13. strong silence on December 30th, 2005 5:16 pm

    But, Jim, what about so much of Ichiro’s OBP being dependent on Batting Average?

  14. joealb on December 30th, 2005 5:18 pm

    Jim, stop it now, you are going to make me wet myself! LMAO!

  15. Jim Thomsen on December 30th, 2005 5:18 pm

    If your OBP is high enough above league average, year in and year out, who cares?

  16. strong silence on December 30th, 2005 5:20 pm


    Should he try to hit for power then?

  17. joealb on December 30th, 2005 5:21 pm

    Hey Brian Holman had 2.5 good years on so-so M’s teams. To bad he tore up his shoulder.

  18. chrisisasavage on December 30th, 2005 5:29 pm

    OH, and Baseball-references list of comparables to Arroyo could easily be renamed “a list of very bad pitchers”, FWIW.

  19. AQ on December 30th, 2005 5:38 pm

    Aye, caramba. Now I see why Dave, Derek, etc are getting frustrated with moderating these threads. It always seems that this time of the year brings out the worst in baseball fans. Because nothing’s currently going (and because the things that have transpired have been mostly bad from an M’s perspective), everyone is being snarky with one another.

    The Reed trade probably won’t take place anyhow. And if it does, there’s no guarantee that Lester OR Papelbon would be included. It sounds like Boston values them both greatly and that it would take more than Reed to get them to part ways with them. The other thing that is important to note is that I recall our local paper indicating that it would likely take Reed and Meche to pry away Lester or Papelbon, not just Reed. Why the BoSox would want Meche is beyond me, considering their abundance of starting pitching already, but…

    I’m not going to sit and compare the merits of Reed versus Papelbon or Lester. I will say that I think that Reed is more valuable to the M’s now than Lester or Papelbon would be. If you fast forward 2 or 3 years, could that change? Sure, it could, but it’s all speculative/educated guessing at this point. And I will also say that I am typically not in favor of fillig one hole while creating another.

  20. AQ on December 30th, 2005 5:39 pm

    #268 – But, since the M’s lost their resident musician (Spiezio/Sand Frog), they might still want to consider Arroyo to at least fill that void for the team.

  21. LF Monster on December 30th, 2005 5:46 pm

    Arroyo looks better than his comps though…I’d far rather have Arroyo than Tomko for Christ’s sake. Lilly’s pretty close to right aside from being a Lefty…I personally would not come up with most of the same comps.

  22. chrisisasavage on December 30th, 2005 5:53 pm

    I don’t like BBRefs comps to be honest, PECOTA is better. I’d like to see his comps when the ’06 PECOTA is available. His ’05 comps aren’t terrible like BB Refs current Comps. Hence the FWIW at the end of my post. I agree though Lilly is a good comp, which is not a good thing in my book.

  23. Jim Thomsen on December 30th, 2005 5:53 pm

    #268: Then again, Jeremy Reed’s comps don’t look too good, either. And I say this as a big Jeremy Reed supporter.

  24. chrisisasavage on December 30th, 2005 6:04 pm

    #273, I suspect that is in part from a lack of MLB playing time. Of course Arroyo only has a couple years as a starter, so I don’t want to infer too much from those years. I’ll give his supporters this, his ’04 self (I meant ’04 in post #261) he’s not so bad, but I wouldn’t trade a good defensive CF for him when we don’t have one. The way I look at it is we A.) don’t trade him and have a hole at one of our rotation sports OR B.) we do and tack a quarter to half a run to all of our pitchers ERA’s.

  25. LF Monster on December 30th, 2005 6:10 pm

    Good luck to Olivo!

    I’d like the idea of acquiring Arroyo if it were not at the cost of Reed. Maybe if it were for Edgar Martinez as well.

  26. BoSoxJro on December 30th, 2005 6:54 pm

    Every good point I make against what your saying seems to get deleted, but here goes…

    Baseball perspectives comparibles are generally off. Ive seena couple that just make me laugh actually, but you also have to consider there are very few pitchers who have had a career like Arroyo. When he was very young he got rushed by the Pirates and wasnt a very effective pitcher, then he chnaged his pitching approach and has become a very effective pitcher. Also, Im not going to argue about value anymore. You guys severely overvalue Reed and undervalue Paps and Lester, while we probably overvalue Pap and Lester. I think here we value our prospects more because of a new philosophy our organization has. Someone was arguing that Paps and Lester arent as good as Felix which was out of the blue because that was never brought up. Also, Franklin was horrible the last two years in a pitchers ballpark and he was on Roids. Arroyo has better periphs than him for sure. Also, you guys have had a solid bullpen for the last couple years while ours is full of underacheiving bums.

  27. BelaXadux on December 30th, 2005 11:18 pm

    *zzzz-qhrrk!* Whazzat?? Was I operating my keyboard in m’ sleep again? Mus’ ‘member to lock the keypad, those numbersssz, bite back.

    Where wass I? . . . Tis a thin Reed *yawn* . . . th’ counts fer naught, ‘causse . . . *THUNK* *zzzzzzz*

  28. vj on December 31st, 2005 10:48 am

    #258 – Dave in Palo Alto: Nice Pilots reference right there!

  29. amarshal2 on January 4th, 2006 10:34 am

    I’m working on my Top 50 for the Prospect Handbook right now; the book goes to press Friday and will be in stores in late February, a month earlier than last year, and we’re excited about that. I had Billinglsey, Verlander, Cain, Liriano in that order, and that order changes almost daily with the exception of Billingsley staying at the top. I really believe in him as a pitcher. In fact, last night, I had Liriano ahead of Cain, but I need to re-adjust that! For me, Lester actually heads the next group that also includes Joel Zumaya, Anthony Reyes, Scott Olsen and Adam Loewen. It’s a relatively thin crop of elite pitchers in the top 50/100 right now.
    -John Manuel

  30. amarshal2 on January 4th, 2006 10:42 am

    “So the approx 5th to 7th best SP prospect in baseball isn’t special?”

    “See, this is my point. The fact that you guys feel that these guys are in the top 5-7 pitching prospects in the game is why I posted this in the first place. Verlander, Liriano, Cain, Billingsley, Olsen, Reyes, and Diamond are all clearly preferable to Lester or Papelbon in my book. They aren’t even close to the top 5, who are a big step ahead of everyone else. What’s the difference between Papelbon and Jonathan Broxton (besides 100 pounds) or Fernando Nieve? Or Lester and Cesar Carillo? Or, even though he’s not my favorite, how about Yusmeiro Petit?”
    -you know who.

    At the very least, “aren’t even close” is way, way off.

  31. amarshal2 on January 4th, 2006 11:06 am

    It would seem this is all possibly irrelevant:

    “A reliable source told me today about a three-way deal that is “imminent.” It’s always risky to throw around “imminent,” but I’m just quoting him here.

    Here’s the scenario:

    BOS gives: Bronson Arroyo, Tony Graffanino, PTBNL

    BOS gets: Jeremy Reed, Will Ohman

    CHC gives: Corey Patterson, Ohman

    CHC gets: Raul Ibanez, Graffanino, cash

    SEA gives: Reed, Ibanez, cash

    SEA gets: Arroyo, Patterson, PTBNL”

    I hope you guys are right about Reed and wrong about Lester/Papelbon!