The Phillies announced Tuesday night they had traded Papelbon and cash considerations to the Nationals for Double-A right-hander Nick Pivetta, ending Papelbon's tumultuous Phillies career without the trips to the postseason he expected when he signed a four-year, $50 million contract in November 2011. MLBPipeline.com ranks Pivetta as the Phillies' No. 10 prospect.
"We didn't want to just get rid of him," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a news conference in Philadelphia. "He had an extraordinary career with us. The fact of the matter is, he was as good as advertised and maybe better. We just didn't play very well around him. Unfortunately, we didn't have the kind of club that was the reason for him to be here.
"No, I don't believe in just getting rid of the guy. Not for me. The ultimate goal was to do what's right for the Phillies. That's what I have to do. I think, ultimately, this will work out for everyone."
Amaro said the Phillies are paying a "significant" portion of Papelbon's salary for the remainder of the season. The Washington Post reported it is $4.5 million, which is essentially the rest of his 2015 salary. But Amaro said they will pay none of the $11 million Papelbon will make in 2016. Papelbon, who waived his no-trade rights, actually took less money to leave the Phillies, forgoing a $13 million club option that would have automatically vested if he finished just 14 more games this season.
Papelbon flew home to Mississippi following Sunday's game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, so he never made it to Toronto. Papelbon recently had made it a habit to fly home for off-days, packing his bags each time and hoping he would get that call from the Phillies that he had been traded.
He finally got that call Tuesday.
Papelbon and his agents negotiated the new contract directly with the Nationals, and the Phillies and Nationals agreed on Pivetta.
"I think every trade has its challenges," Amaro said. "This had a variety of different challenges because we had to get approval from him, and there was some complication in converting the contract. I think, at the end of the day, hopefully this works out for everybody."
The Nationals selected Pivetta, 22, in the fourth round of the 2013 Draft. He went 7-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) this season with Class A Advanced Potomac before being promoted to Harrisburg, where he is 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA in three starts.
"A strapping, big arm," Amaro said about Pivetta. "A guy who our scouts liked quite a bit. We have seen him quite a bit over the last couple of years. We like the arm. Hopefully, Nick can continue his development and continue his way up the ladder so he can help us in Philadelphia sometime soon."
Amaro said Pivetta's ceiling is as high as a No. 3 starter.
"He's still got some upside," Amaro said. "Our projections are a middle to the bottom of the rotation type of pitcher. Could be as high as a three. Could be as low as a five. A lot of it depends on how he develops. He's got great stuff to work with, and I like the way our development people are working with our pitching."
Coincidentally, Papelbon's trade came two years to the day that he told MLB.com in Detroit: "I definitely didn't come here for this." Papelbon had been vocal about wanting to leave Philadelphia ever since, most recently campaigning for a trade at the All-Star Game.
He will leave the Phillies as the franchise's all-time saves leader, with 123. He finished his Phillies career 14-11 with a 2.31 ERA in 234 appearances, making the National League All-Star team in 2012 and 2015.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.