CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Ryne Sandberg have said unequivocally that Jonathan Papelbon will be their closer in 2015.
"Pap is here to come in and close games," Sandberg said. "I've had good conversations with him. His mindset is to do that with the Phillies."
It has been a question worth asking. Papelbon needs to finish only 48 games this season to automatically vest a $13 million club option for 2016. That should be a cinch, if he is healthy and continues to close. Papelbon has finished no fewer than 52 games each of the previous eight seasons, and has averaged 56.4 games finished in that span.
The option is noteworthy because the Phillies have had problems trying to trade Papelbon due to his salary. He makes $13 million this season, plus the potential for $13 million more in 2016.
Teams do not want to pay that much for a closer.
Many have wondered if the Phillies could simply demote Papelbon for Ken Giles, who had an impressive rookie season last year. The Phillies could say Giles is getting the job as part of a youth movement, which would scuttle Papelbon's chances at the option.
That would make Papelbon more desirable in a trade.
Papelbon said he would be surprised if the Phillies approached him during the season and said they planned to make Giles the closer.
"I think that they know my stance on closing," Papelbon said. "That's what I am. I'm a closer. I think if the team decides to go that route, then so be it. Then they go that route. I'll continue my route with this Major League career that I've had and move on."
But again, the Phillies have said that is not happening as long as Papelbon is performing. He has posted 106 saves (seventh-most in baseball) and a 2.45 ERA (16th out of 137 qualifying relievers) in his three seasons in Philadelphia. If the Phillies suddenly pull him, despite him pitching well, he very well could file a grievance with the MLB Players Association.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.