4:13pm: The Red Sox certainly appear to have fairly strong interest, as manager John Farrell told reporters today that he has spoken with the former Boston standout. Though it isn’t immediately clear whether the club has an offer on the table, that level of dialogue suggests there could be a match.
11:53am: Via Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com/CBS Chicago, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he hasn’t been told of any talks with Papelbon but also wouldn’t totally discount the notion of the right-hander joining the Cubs (Twitter link). Red Sox skipper John Farrell, meanwhile, more strongly hinted at the possibility that Papelbon could join his club (Twitter link via MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM): “We’ve talked about it, there’s some real strong points to ’Pap’ that could be an addition here.”
9:37am: Recently released Nationals right-hander Jonathan Papelbon is nearing a decision and is likely to sign with a new team in the next 24 hours, reports Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford doesn’t specify how many teams have made an offer or are showing interest in the 35-year-old.
The Nats cut Papelbon loose last week, and he’s been somewhat speculatively linked to the Cubs, while Bradford reported not long after his release that Papelbon would welcome a return to Boston. (Notably, he writes today that it’s not clear if the Sox have any interest in a reunion.) It seems likely that Papelbon will land with a contending club, as there’s little sense in a rebuilding team adding a 35-year-old to its bullpen just seven weeks before he hits free agency. And from Papelbon’s perspective, joining a club with a shot at the postseason is a logical course of action.
There are plenty of red flags surrounding Papelbon, who has seen his fastball velocity, strikeout rate, walk rate and ground-ball rate all trend in the wrong direction over the past couple of years. The result in 2016 was an earned run average that quickly ballooned from 2.56 to 4.37 after he allowed nine runs in 3 1/3 innings over his final five outings with Washington. Many have questioned Papelbon’s clubhouse presence over the years as well, particularly following last year’s dugout altercation with Bryce Harper, but Nationals teammates defended Papelbon’s character to to the media following his release, and Cubs lefty Jon Lester gave him a nice endorsement as a teammate just yesterday. Beyond that, whatever team signs Papelbon would only need to pay him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum for the remainder of the season, so the most he’d cost a new team would be just $130K through season’s end.