When Jonathan Papelbon spoke to the media for the first time on Monday, who knew what to expect. The closer has gotten mixed reviews from the Phillies fans after a season in which he struggled, blowing seven saves and failing to reach 30 saves for this first time in his career since 2005, his first with the Red Sox. That combined with his comments about not coming to Philadelphia to lose became somewhat of his own personal media frenzy.
When the Phillies signed Papelbon to his four-year, $50mil contract, they were locking up a big time closer for big time money. The big question this year is, will he become more of a leader, more of an on-field presence and leave the negative thoughts behind? We can only hope so as the Phillies bullpen spots are a large question mark going into 2014, with the exception of Papelbon set as the closer. Let's take a look at what the had to say and what I think we should take from it.
Last season, Papelbon stated he didn't "come here for this". Tough times led to a disgruntled closer. In terms of leadership, it probably wasn't the best thing to say and this is how he responded.
“Because I think we have different personnel in place,” Papelbon said. “I think we have a whole new team, a whole new group of guys, a new manager, new guys in the bullpen. It’s different.”
There is some truth to this. Sometimes, an organization that is on the downfall needs fresh blood on the staff to freshen things up and give the team a new attitude. With the departure of Charlie Manuel and insertion of Ryne Sandberg, the locker room could see a different vibe in 2014. Let's also mention, while knocking on wood, that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz are all healthy right now. That's huge and having Howard's presence on the field and in the locker room will help as well in my opinion.
“When the dial is turned up and there is something on the line, I just seem to be at my best. Um, when it’s a day game in New York and you’re 12 games behind, that dial ain’t really turned up. That ain’t really how I go,”
When you are a closer, this is a horrendous mindset to have. With a 162 game season, being 12 games back can change in an instant. Remember 2007, when the Phillies were seven games back in the final month and came back to win the NL East? This statement, to me, comes off as "well, if we are that far back in the standings it doesn't matter if we win or lose." As a closer, you don't know when you might pitch next, so you have to be on top of your game whether you are 12 games behind or 12 games ahead. You never know when your divisional opponents could hit the injury bug and start falling in the standings. Hopefully Paps' mindset changes on this because there is a chance we could see the same 2013 results from the offense in 2014 as well...there is just no telling what could happen.
“This year, I'm definitely trying to be a lot more of a positive influence and be more upbeat,” It starts from Ryno. It starts from our manager encouraging us to stay positive and be upbeat even though the last two seasons didn't go as expected for myself and the rest of the guys in that clubhouse. This spring training is a big, big difference from the last two -- even just in the first few days. There is a lot more upbeat positivity. It's night and day, it really is. Every morning we have a meeting and Ryno talks about energy and spark. Bringing it every day. Last year and the year previous, we didn't have that.”
Like I said before, I think the Sandberg regime could bring awesome things to the locker room. His positive attitude and his work ethic seem great and the entire club seems very invested in what he brings to the table, or so they say.
“For me, I didn't come here to lose, I came here to win. I came here to win a World Championship. I don't take losing very well.
This is a good minset to have, but it has its faults too. Everyone goes to a place to win, no one really goes professional to lose and be miserable. I've come to notice that winning comes first, money second for the most part. In the Jayson Werth situation, as much as I dislike the guy, he won his ring and then went to a situation that had a better future and more money. Win first, money second.
Back to Papelbon, he can't start pouting if the team starts performing poorly, especially when he was a big part of the losing in 2013. His save percentage was 81 percent, lowest of his career. That ranked 29th among the 32 closers who had 20 or more save opportunities last year. I understand not coming here to lose, but I think his comments need to be a slight more candid, even though I don't expect that to happen.
“I understand that when a team is going well, and there’s a lot of players doing well, and you’re winning balls games, I mean everybody can feed off of that. Teams go through losing streaks and it’s a long season. You ride it out, you have your ups and downs, that’s where I think a reminder, from myself and my coaching staff—but first off from myself—a reminder that hey, we’re all in this together. We have to get it going the other direction, we have to do things differently. That’s my job to stay on top of that.”
The interview kind of came full circle here. After making comments about not liking losing and becoming more of a leader, I think Papelbon notices that he needs to be a big part of this team both on and off the field for it to succeed. This is a team, but for the Phillies to win, Papelbon must produce. As kids, we all stand in our backyards picturing a situation where we are pitching in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, two outs and full count. He feeds off of that adrenaline and other players catch on as well. Sure, he did say all this stuff in Spring Training last season, so hopefully this season it comes to fruition.
“The one thing I can say that does upset me is a lot of reporters took that comment as I'm a bad teammate, which is definitely not true. I'd break my back for my teammates. I'd do anything. They're my brothers. I'm with them more than my family. I live and die for my teammates.”
If you ask me, Paps need to just keep his composure with the media. Have a little self control. If he doesn't want his comments misconstrued, then why say it? I'll believe this teammate nonsense when I actually see him perform as a part of the team like he did in 2012, when he saved 38 games. Let other players feed off of your success, Jon. Sure, no athlete is perfect when it comes to this kinda stuff, but Papelbon can definitely improve.
“Like I said, I’m really excited about this year and I know a lot of guys have a chip on their shoulders. I’m speaking for myself and what I’ve seen. I like that. I like when the caliber athletes we have are put up against a wall. I like our chances of responding to that.”
“I have looked at what people have predicted us to do. I don’t necessarily agree with that and if I was a gambling man, I would take us… to go all the way.”
Having a chip on your shoulder can be great and it can also be bad. It can make you overly aggresive and end up failing. That being said, having the same core of players, no matter how old, has to be good for being able to regroup and keep things real. Even being three years removed from the playoffs. I also believe you need to be realistic. I mean would it be great for the Phillies to go all the way? Hell yes. Is it going to happen? Not likely. I am all about realistic expectations and believe the Phillies can compete for a Wild Card spot, but will settle for 5-10 wins above last seasons total, so I am not a huge fan of Papelbon stating that he would take the Phillies to go all the way...although what do you really expect him to say?
Brandon Apter is a contributor to Philliedelphia. Follow him on Twitter @ApterShock