Sep 14, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
PHILADELPHIA — Jonathan Papelbon has never been one to mince words or withhold his true feelings about a subject, so it shouldn’t have come as much surprise when the Nationals closer returned to Citizens Bank Park on Monday and lobbed criticism at the Phillies organization that traded him earlier this summer.
Papelbon, who signed a 4-year, $50 million contract with Philadelphia prior to the 2012 season, had requested a trade after watching the Phillies plummet to the majors’ worst record and publicly announce a rebuilding project that included the dealing of several other popular veterans.
Because his contract included a no-trade clause, he had the final say on where he was dealt, and he accepted a deal to Washington on July 28 after getting assurances from the Nationals he would serve as their closer. He also agreed to reduce his 2016 salary from $14 million to $11 million if the Nats picked up his option.
Papelbon’s final months in Philadelphia were contentious, with the veteran right-hander making it clear he wanted out and barely couching his disdain for now-former manager Ryne Sandberg. So his first trip back to Citizens Bank Park as a member of the Nationals figured to draw some attention, which is most certainly did.
Sitting in the visitors dugout before a pack of more than a dozen reporters, Papelbon spoke for roughly nine minutes before a Nationals PR official cut off the session. Here are some of the highlights…
On whether he still talks to members of the Phillies: “You know, they’ve got some good guys over there that want to win and want to play. They’re just unfortunately in a position where they do have to do a lot of other things to become a good organization, and I think it’s going to be a while before that happens. … I came here and signed here thinking I was going to win 2-3 more rings, and that didn’t happen. I felt like it was time for me to move on.”
On if it’s disappointing that he wanted out of a losing situation in Philly but wound up on a Nats team that has fallen out of contention: “Yeah, it is. But I think in this game the only thing you can truly ask for is to be on a team where you’re happy being on. And being in an environment where you have a chance or an opportunity to win. And neither one of those two were able to be done for me with the Phillies, and both of those are the reasons why I came to Washington. All I asked for was a chance to win, and when you have a chance, that’s all you can ask for. You lay the cards out and see how they fold. It is what it is.”
On his reaction to the Phillies firing GM Ruben Amaro: “I guess my reaction to that would just be, agreed with that. I don’t see it as a surprise. I kind of knew that was coming. I think most of you all thought that as well, right?”
On if he has any regrets about his time with the Phillies, who probably won’t be inviting him back for alumni weekends: “I don’t like the barbecues at the alumni weekend anyway. It doesn’t really hurt my feelings. The way I look back on it is: I came here as a free agent and I looked to produce day-in and day-out, and I felt like I did that. We had a lot of injuries and a lot of guys fall by the wayside, but I was still be able to be there and grinding every day and posting up. So that’s the way I look at it. It just so happened to be an unfortunate situation where you just lost one game after another.”
On if he wanted to take back what he said about not being happy in Philadelphia toward the end: “No, if I say something, I mean it. It feels from the heart. I’m not going to take anything back that I’ve ever said or did, because I believe that it’s right. I don’t know if I got a bad rap here or whatever, but I can promise you I was by far (from) the bad guy on this team. I was one of the few that wanted to actually win, and I was one of the few that competed and posted up every day. Other than that, that’s all I view an athlete or a baseball player. I don’t have any regrets, no.”
On what he meant when he said there were guys on the team that didn’t want to win: “I say it as a team. If you don’t have a team atmosphere that’s put together that coincides with winning, you know? … You’ve got one guy going down to Triple-A, one guy’s coming back from Triple-A next week. You’ve got different positions every week. That to me wasn’t a formula for winning, you know? We just had too many non-regular guys in there. And granted, we did get hurt, but we didn’t have the personnel, the leadership, the A-to-Z to win. It was felt all throughout the clubhouse, and it was felt all throughout the stadium, I believe.”
On why he didn’t try to lead more: “I did. I did. I tried to do certain things. I tried to bring certain things to attention that would make us better, and it just seemed like everything I brought to attention — whether it would be with another veteran or pitcher or infielder or outfielder or another veteran guy — it was like, to me I was never accepted in that: ‘Hey look, this guy wants to help our team and make us be better.’ They just kind of all let it fly by the wayside and never really paid attention to what I had to say.”
On if any of those communication issues came from ex-manager Ryne Sandberg: “Well, the manager is the ultimate communicator. A team follows his manager. So that’s pretty much point blank.”
On where the blame lies within the organization: “I think the blame goes all the way from the front office all the way down to the bat boy. When you don’t have an organization that wants to win, it’s pretty evident and they go out and publicly say: ‘We’re not going to win.’ So, what more? You know what I mean?”
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