Jul 28, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
Updated at 8:20 p.m.
For the second time in two years, the Nationals decided to bolster their bullpen by acquiring an experienced closer who likely will bump Drew Storen from his once-secure role pitching the ninth inning.
The Nationals and Phillies have finalized a trade that will bring Jonathan Papelbon to D.C., the team announced on Tuesday night, a move that significantly improves a bullpen that has seen plenty of turnover and inconsistent performances this season but again leaves Storen in an awkward position.
In exchange for Papelbon and cash considerations, the Phillies will receive minor-league right-hander Nick Pivetta, one of the Nationals’ second-tier pitching prospects who broke out at Class A Potomac this season before earning a recent promotion to Class AA Harrisburg. The Nationals designated catcher Dan Butler for assignment to make room for Papelbon on the 40-man roster.
Papelbon was one of several high-profile closers the Nationals inquired about this week, with Friday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline approaching and a clear need to add an experienced reliever to the mix. Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman and San Diego’s Craig Kimbrel also were discussed, but ultimately the asking price proved too much for general manager Mike Rizzo’s liking.
Not that the Papelbon deal was easy to complete. The 34-year-old had a no-trade clause that would have allowed him to block a move to Washington. He also had a $13 million option for 2016 that would automatically vest if he finishes 14 more games this season. With that in mind, he made it clear earlier this week he would not accept a trade to any club that wouldn’t use him as its closer.
Nationals executives spoke to Papelbon and/or his representatives in the last 24 hours to discuss his potential role and convince him to waive his no-trade rights, according to sources. The two sides reached agreement Tuesday late afternoon, with Papelbon ultimately waiving the no-trade clause and accepting a $2 million pay cut in exchange for the Nats picking up his 2016 option, which now will be worth $11 million, according to FoxSports.com.
Papelbon’s track record is as solid as it gets. He owns a 1.59 ERA and 17 saves in 17 tries this season, with fewer runners reaching base against him than previously in his career. He also has a strong postseason resume, having posted a 1.00 ERA in 18 career October appearances and seven saves in nine attempts, all with the Red Sox. He was a perfect 4-for-4 closing games in the 2007 World Series, the last man standing on the mound when Boston clinched the second of its three recent titles.
How this deal impacts Storen remains to be seen. The Nationals’ closer for much of 2011-12, he lost his job the following year when Rizzo signed veteran Rafael Soriano to a 2-year contract and wound up struggling so much he was demoted to Class AAA in midsummer.
Storen has bounced back from that demotion, though, and blossomed into one of the majors’ best relievers since, with a 1.37 ERA and 41 saves in 46 attempts over the last two calendar years.
Now, the homegrown closer may find himself bumped into a setup role once again after the Nationals surprisingly acquired a veteran.
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