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Papelbon’s long-term future after incident is murky

Sep 29, 2015, 6:06 AM EST

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The Nationals took swift action Monday to address Jonathan Papelbon’s short-term future with the organization, suspending the volatile closer for the remainder of the season after his dugout attack on Bryce Harper the previous afternoon.

The organization’s long-term plan for Papelbon, though, remains quite murky.

Papelbon is under contract for another season; that was among the biggest selling points to acquire him from the Phillies in July, in general manager Mike Rizzo’s mind. The fact Papelbon was willing to rework his deal, reducing his 2016 salary from $14 million to $11 million (with $3 million of that salary deferred to 2017), helped matters, as well.

But given the images of Sunday’s incident, of Papelbon putting a choke hold on Harper and slamming him into the dugout bench and rear wall, it’s difficult to imagine him showing up in Viera next spring and rejoining the club.

The Nationals wouldn’t address the issue publicly on Monday.

“He’s under contract,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to evaluate every moving part that we have after the season, and we’ll make all those decisions once the final out is made in 2015.”

Rizzo did suggest Papelbon (who isn’t accompanying the Nationals on their final road trip to Atlanta and New York) would be meeting with club officials shortly after the season ends next week. What that meeting might entail is unclear, but it is clear the organization won’t simply put the matter to rest and proceed as though it never happened in the first place.

The Nationals can’t simply try to deal Papelbon to another organization this winter. In addition to his damaged reputation — not to mention the fact he surrendered nine runs over his final 8 2/3 innings this month, suffering two losses and blowing two save opportunities — the no-trade clause that was part of his original contract with the Phillies still applies. He would have the right to veto another deal.

Which probably leaves the Nationals with only two options: 1) Release Papelbon and eat the $11 million he is owed, or 2) Keep him and hope things somehow get better next season.

That, of course, requires everyone to believe this was a one-time incident and not part of a larger, systemic problem. Rizzo was asked Monday if he believes that.

“I do,” the GM said. “Papelbon has fit in nicely in the clubhouse and in the bullpen. I think this was an isolated incident and that Jonathan will learn from it. I think he will react differently the next time.”

Then there’s this simple question: Can Papelbon and Harper co-exist on the same team in 2016? And would retaining him have any negative effect on Harper’s potential interest in signing a long-term deal to remain in Washington beyond the three more years he’s under team control?

“If Pap’s gonna help us win a World Series next year, that’s what I need,” Harper said. “That’s what this whole clubhouse needs, and they need me to do the same thing. We need to be in the lineup every single day and we can’t be fighting or anything like that. That’s just part of it. As much as I need him, he needs me. I attribute that to us being a family in here and doing the things we need to do to win World Series. And he’s part of that.

“I think, being able to go into next year and do the things we need to do, we’ll worry about next year. But if he’s gonna be our closer, he’s gotta do what he can to help this team win. And the same thing with me. I gotta go in every single day to help this team win, and that’s every single guy in this clubhouse. It takes 25 guys, and not just one.”

  1. Another_Sam - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:48 AM

    Not murky to me. Haha. If the $$$ is a problem I have one (compound) word: crowdsourcing.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:37 AM

      Heck, I’d add to the kitty if it meant that dude would never darken our door again. The suspension bought them some time but he needs to be gone, good-bye.

    • naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:21 AM

      If Scherzer wants to endear himself to the Washington fanbase for eternity he should just walk into the Lerners office and plunk down an $11 mil check and say “get this clow out of here”

      • ArVAFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        +$11M

        And he could write it off his taxes as a business deduction (“insurance” or “self-defense” in case he doesn’t run out a single fast enough).

        So make that +$6M, net of taxes.

  2. homeparkdc - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:55 AM

    Mark, IIRC, the no-trade clause was waived by pplbn when the 2016 year was guaranteed by the Nats.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:38 AM

      That’s what I was thinking as well. And what happened to my original post about chipping in to Sam’s kitty?

      • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:39 AM

        Oh. Never mind. (Where’s my coffee??)

    • natsguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 8:50 AM

      Only for the trade to the Nats. The clause still applies. I doubt if he wants to come back now any more than we want him to.

    • snopes1 - Sep 29, 2015 at 8:59 AM

      I don’t remember the no-trade clause being waived by Papelbon, though I could have missed it. But Mark is overstating the no-trade clause. It was not a complete no-trade clause, but a partial no-trade clause that allows Papelbon to veto trades to 17 teams (including the Nationals).

      According to SBNation (don’t know where their information comes from), the 12 teams to which Papelbon cannot block a trade are the Red Sox, Rays, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs, and Padres.

      I don’t know how the contract is phrased, but I guess it’s conceivable it would allow Papelbon to be traded to the Phillies too. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen, no matter how much fun it is to dream about it.

  3. ijncricket - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:10 AM

    If Papelbon stays I think the whole thing unravels next year, guaranteed. He’ll be poison and has proved to be not such an ace closer anyway. There are plenty of difficult decisions to be taken for next year without having the smirking Boston Strangler crapping the nest.

  4. paulfortier - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:19 AM

    Tell me why it is always the team, never the player, who « eats » the $$$.

    • NatsNut - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:26 AM

      Union

    • ArVAFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 8:06 AM

      Contracts. Yes, the union has significant influence over the general terms of the contract, but once the contract is written, under the laws we live under, both sides have to honor a contract. Contracts can have incentive clauses, penalties, no-trade clauses, or anything else (legal) that the two parties can agree to, but once they’re signed they’re binding.

      And yes, players can lose money under their contracts (i.e. Pap loses the money allocable to his suspension): also see A-Rod. Players with doubtful physicals can accept incentive/penalty clauses based on how many games they play. IIRC Soriano had a vesting clause based on how many games he closed (that milestone wasn’t reached . . . for better or for worse).

      • ArVAFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 8:27 AM

        P.S. and speaking of contracts, you’ve got to believe that even as we write, there are several of DC’s finest legal minds going over that contract, looking for loopholes (if you’ll excuse the tax phraseology).

      • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 8:52 AM

        I’ve been hoping that’s the case.

        “P.S. and speaking of contracts, you’ve got to believe that even as we write, there are several of DC’s finest legal minds going over that contract, looking for loopholes (if you’ll excuse the tax phraseology).”

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:47 PM

      Not so. Players “eat” the contract same as the team if they are the one to walk away. Happens less often, but it happens.

  5. alexva6 - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    if you think Soriano got pretty harsh treatment from some posters, they keep this guy and you’ll be adding natsInsider.com to your kid’s list of banned sites

  6. janebeard - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    I’m not encouraged by Rizzo’s assertion that Papelbon largely fit into the clubhouse. That sounds to me like they are actively considering figuring out how to keep him. Which is despicable. I hope it’s Rizzo just saving face and not truly what he thinks.

    There must be some aspect in the contract that relates to conduct unbecoming, or something like that. I get that for some people this really IS not that big a deal, and that a case would be made that this doesn’t rise to that level. If his manager is any good at all, he will convince Pap to take whatever deal is offered and get the heck out of town. But he’s not a good enough closer to be worth having a thug in the clubhouse.

    In my mind, it would send a great message to players we need to attract to rebuild or team to just DFA him and be done. That is an option. That would tell me (the FA Player looking for my next home) that the problem is dealt with, and that they mean this to be a character+ team. The money isn’t totally lost.

    • veejh - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:22 AM

      Nah. Rizzo’s trying to pump his stock back up so Paps isn’t a complete loss.

      • naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:35 AM

        totally agree veejh

        not easy but he is doing his best to put lipstick on that pig

      • letswin3 - Sep 29, 2015 at 5:05 PM

        I agree too. Rizzo want’s this cancer outa here/

  7. NatsNut - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    I’ve been reading lots of articles around the web and wish I could shout that this wasn’t a “scuffle” or “altercation.” It was an assault.

    • janebeard - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:26 AM

      EXACTLY. A shove, a shoulder punch is a scuffle. Hands around the throat is assault. I don’t care if brothers do behave this way sometimes. I don’t care if people who know each other behave this way sometimes. It is assault. It is assault. It is assault. The “scuffle” thing is the same reasoning that keeps wives and girlfriends with men who beat them up. It’s the same reasoning that lets cops get away with force out of proportion to what’s going on. It’s a tired old paradigm that needs to shift.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        Jane said:

        “The “scuffle” thing is the same reasoning that keeps wives and girlfriends with men who beat them up.”

        And, seeing as how we’re going there, I’ll say that the quote below regarding Rizzo’s comments, which I’ve not yet watched or heard in their entirety, makes me think of how domestic abusers have been known to use “mouthing off” on the part of their targets as justification for resorting to violence. (Yeah, I guess maybe this incident pushes some old buttons for me.)

        “But he also cited Harper for playing a part in the fracas, responding to Papelbon’s verbal barbs with his own words that perhaps prompted the closer to turn physical.”

      • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:29 AM

        Exactly.

      • naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:33 AM

        Well if Harper’s gonna dress like that then he’s just asking for it
        (tasteless sarcasm meant)

    • kkpp3 - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:26 AM

      +1

      • janebeard - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:14 AM

        Great point, 1a.

    • Scooter - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:32 AM

      It was both.

  8. kkpp3 - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    Is MLB likely to do anything about Papelbon’s attack on Harper? Surely his actions “bring the game into disrepute” (or whatever the phrase is).

  9. Another_Sam - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:56 AM

    Thoughts on unwritten rules: all organizations – sports or not sports — have unwritten rules and tacit orthodoxy. Professional sports organizations have ’em. Recall Cal Ripken and Michael Jordon, as two glaring examples. Here’s one tacit rule: ATTEMPT TO STRANGLE THE FRANCHISE AND YOU’RE OUTTA HERE. I hope.

    But seriously, all decisions in business are business decisions and I understand that. The guys running the organization — sports, or any business — do what is best in the big picture. That’s what a business decision is.

    The outsized Werth contract signaled to the fans, the city, and the rest of baseball that the club was in it for the long haul and serious about this business. I’d sure like to see a similar statement by giving Harper essentially a lifetime contract this off season — make it clear to all where he stands in the future of this business organization.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:58 AM

      Well said.

    • akiterp - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:03 AM

      +15 … years

  10. peewilly - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    As mentioned above Papelgone simply is not good enough to tolerate his stupidity. Storen must be thinking “well at least when I spit the bit I only attacked myself”.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:54 PM

      Tomo Okha only dissed Frank, on the mound; he was gone by the time he got back into the showers.

  11. texnat1 - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    The no trade clause issue can be solved simply by telling him he is now the 8th inning guy if he won’t waive it. Remember he is desperate to become the all times saves leader.

    • snopes1 - Sep 29, 2015 at 11:00 AM

      Texnat1 –

      That’s an excellent point. I think at this point Papelbon would pretty readily waive the no-trade clause to be the closer somewhere. The problem is finding a team that would take him.

      • letswin3 - Sep 29, 2015 at 5:14 PM

        I respectfully disagree. There are likely several teams out there who would love to get a proven closer, while the team sending him (the Nats in this case) agrees to pay something like half his ’16 salary. They might even give up a second tier prospect too.

    • alexva6 - Sep 29, 2015 at 11:52 AM

      and he says okay great, see you in VIera

      they’re going to have to eat all or most of the salary. c’est la vie

  12. langleyclub - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    Papelbon can be dealt if:

    – The Nats agree to eat most of his $11 million 2016 salary;
    – The Nats are willing to take some other team’s problem and/or bad contract in return.

    So, the questions will be: are the Nats better off just releasing Papelbon or trading him for someone else’s problem.

    • naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:42 AM

      How about a 162 day suspension without pay?

      • ArVAFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:54 AM

        I’m sure the lawyers are looking for that right now.

      • trfwans - Sep 29, 2015 at 11:21 AM

        If nothing else, I hope someone from MLB showed up at Pap’s house on Sunday night for a “random” drug test. That guy ain’t just “high on life.”

      • paulfortier - Sep 29, 2015 at 11:26 AM

        I like this idea 🙂

  13. natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 11:15 AM

    This guy? He totally gets it. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

    http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/09/washington-nationals-bryce-harper-jonathan-papelbon-choke-mvp-mlb

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:04 PM

      Thank you.

      And there’s this:

      Check this out: If you were to take away all seven of Bryce Harper’s infield singles in 2015 and turn all of his doubles and triples into singles … he’d still be leading the National League in OPS. That’s how good he has been.

    • janebeard - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:30 PM

      Thank you!

    • letswin3 - Sep 29, 2015 at 5:30 PM

      He nailed it.

  14. JamesFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 11:23 AM

    Papelbon is gone. The Nats are so far behind this situation, they are out of sight. Can you imagine bringing in Papelbon to save a game for the Nats after this? He will be boo-ed off the mound. Papelbon would be the story of the 2016 season if he hangs around. If they don’t cut/trade him immediately after the season, the national media will play “who is the Nats’ closer?” all winter and the franchise will look incompetent.

    There is no way to finesse this. Solution: 1. Fire Williams by Monday morning, 2. Trade or cut Papelbon (no one will take him and the Nats will have to eat his salary anyway) by a week from Monday, 3. Trade Storen over the winter and rebuild the pen.

    Williams should have been dumped by September 1. It was obvious that the season was over and he had lost the team.

    Rizzo has a year to straighten this mess out.

  15. Nats Fan Zee - Sep 29, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    May I call your attention to the following article written when another fine Philly hit the 19 year old Bryce Harper intentionally:

    http://m.mlb.com/news/article/30648282/

    Rizzo said:

    “Mike Rizzo blasted Hamels in an interview with The Washington Post. Rizzo called Hamels “gutless,” “classless” and “fake-tough.””

    Papelbon said:

    “Jonathan Papelbon, who participated for years in arguably the greatest rivalry in sports between the Yankees and Red Sox, seemed amused at the whole thing. Asked if Rizzo’s comments bothered him, he chuckled, “No, man. It’s the pros. It’s the pros, man. This ain’t the semi-pros.”

    He went on to say:

    But Papelbon did defend his teammate when asked if Rizzo’s comments were a poor characterization of Hamels.

    So someone please explain to me what the hell this A-hole is doing on our team? We can pay for this DFA with a ticket surcharge of about $5 …. That’s less than the Internet service and handling fees that charge to online tickets!

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