Oct 29, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2016: 35
How acquired: Trade from Philadelphia for RHP Nick Pivetta, July 2015
MLB service time: 10 years, 64 days
2015 salary+bonuses: $13 million
Contract status: Signed for $11 million in 2016 ($3 million to be deferred until 2017), free agent in 2017
2015 stats: 59 G, 63.1 IP, 53 H, 22 R, 15 ER, 7 HR, 12 BB, 56 K, 1.026 WHIP, 4-3, 2.13 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.4 WAR
Quotable: “I think for the most part he has fit into the clubhouse culture fine. You can ask the players in there. I think they respect what he’s done in the game and the way he prepares and goes about his business. I’m not going to judge his entire body, his whole career, by this one incident. It was unfortunate and unacceptable. And I think the suspension says that.” — Mike Rizzo, after the Nationals suspended Jonathan Papelbon for the final week of the season
2015 analysis: Needing to bolster their bullpen for the stretch run, the Nationals made about as bold a move as possible at the time: They traded not for the setup man most assumed they wanted but instead for one of the most-established closers in baseball. Papelbon’s on-field track record (342 career saves and a 2.35 ERA, not to mention 17 saves and a 1.59 ERA in Philadelphia over the previous four months) was impeccable. The question was how his addition would affect suddenly demoted closer Drew Storen and how Papelbon’s personality would blend into the Nationals’ clubhouse.
The answer, of course, was not a positive one. Storen moped about his change of roles and then imploded pitching the eighth inning. Papelbon did pitch well at the outset, successfully converting his first six save opportunities and allowing only three earned runs in 15 innings. But then he imploded himself, blowing back-to-back save chances and also losing two other games, surrendering five earned runs in his final 8 2/3 innings of the season.
All of that, however, wound up taking a backseat to Papelbon’s clashing with teammates down the stretch. It began with him intentionally throwing at Manny Machado’s head in what the reliever thought was a show of support for his team after Machado’s exuberant celebration for a game-changing homer. And then it culminated with Papelbon barking at Bryce Harper for (in his estimation) not running out a routine popup, leading to heated words between the two and Papelbon grabbing the presumptive NL MVP by the throat to instigate a dugout tussle.
That incident led the Nationals to suspend Papelbon for the remainder of the season, leaving his future with the organization in question.
2016 outlook: One of the primary reasons Rizzo traded for Papelbon was the fact he was already under contract for 2016. The Nationals even got him to agree to reduce his salary from $13 million to $11 million, with $3 million of that deferred until 2017. Now, though, there are serious doubts whether the club can bring him back after what happened.
Rizzo said that matter would be addressed after the season, a decision that likely has taken a backseat to the Nationals’ ongoing managerial search. At some point, though, Rizzo and the organization as a whole have to decide how to proceed with Papelbon. Can he return in 2016 and make amends with Harper and the rest of the roster, or is it too late for reconciliation?
If he returns, the Nationals have their closer, hoping Papelbon resembles the guy from the vast majority of his career and not the final two weeks of 2015. If he doesn’t, the Nats will be on the hook for a whole lot of money. Perhaps Rizzo can find another club willing to make a trade for Papelbon, but that scenario would probably require the Nationals to assume a decent amount of his salary. If they outright release him, they would be responsible for his entire salary.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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