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Roster review: Jonathan Papelbon

Oct 29, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

USA Today Sports Images

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.

  1. rabbit433 - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:10 PM

    Personally, I don’t trust him. I think he would blow a game just for spite.

  2. Eugene in Oregon - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:11 PM

    I appreciate that this will be ‘baseball’ decision, mixed with contracts and business and such. But as a fan, I sincerely hope that Mr. Papelbon does not return to Washington — or show up in February in Florida — in Nats uniform.

    • janebeard - Oct 29, 2015 at 7:11 PM

      I agree. He needs to GO GO GO.

  3. rgsie - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:16 PM

    I don’t believe this guy will ever play MLB again. That video says it all.

  4. slidell2 - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:18 PM

    I read somewhere in here that he moved out of his newly-acquired home lock, stock and barrel. So, if he is the one who breaks it off, are the Nats still on the hook? Or, has the decision already been made and not published?

    • Susanfaulkner - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:36 PM

      I heard the same thing. Don’t know what happens in that situation. It’s messed up sometimes look the Yankees still had to pay ARod for being a liar and a cheater. Who knows.

      • ricandersen - Oct 30, 2015 at 2:31 PM

        “It’s messed up sometimes look the Yankees still had to pay ARod for being a liar and a cheater.”

        Yeah, but ARod produced. I mean, really produced. All-Star numbers. Papelbon, on the other hand, has had declining stats for a few seasons. And even his numbers with the Nats are under inflated. Besides the earned runs he gave up, he gave up a buttload of inherited runners.

    • jd - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:42 PM

      Don’t kid yourself. He is not walking away from $11 million voluntarily and no one will pick up his salary and give you something worthwhile in return. For starters there are very few teams that would want Paplebon on their rosters regardless of cost, at the trade deadline there were only 2 other teams with any kind of interest (Blue Jays and Cubs) and neither was all that serious.

      Now, if the Nats were to release him I am quite sure that some team will take a flier on him at a minimum salary cost but to think that we will actually recoup something money or talent wise is wildly optimistic.

      Having said that, Paplebon should never be allowed to wear a Nats uniform again if only to appease Bryce Harper. It was a terrible mistake bringing him here and you don’t compound the problem by bringing him back, you just don’t. I think Rizzo and the Lerners both know that.

      The real open question is what to do about Drew Storen? You have already told him twice you don’t trust him. Do you let Black try to rescue his value or do you move on?

      • ArVAFan - Oct 29, 2015 at 6:48 PM

        Yep: orders from Lerners to Rizzo: find us a non-choking closer. Pun intended.

    • janebeard - Oct 29, 2015 at 7:14 PM

      That was me who posted that. We know the people who live next door to him. SO we’d already heard how they came in a paid more money that the house was worth to get the family who lived there to sell and move out, even when the house wasn’t for sale. And somewhere near Columbus Day the moving vans came and took everything, down to the welcome mat. I don’t know whose decision it was, but the house is totally empty — not like, “They’ll be back in the Spring” empty.

  5. funnationals - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:34 PM

    I live in Alexandria and Papelblown’s kid Gunner is no longer with the local little league team

    the house he bought is empty, down to the doormat

    hope he doesn’t return, there’s enough jerks in DC

  6. jskurtzke - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:41 PM

    Addition by subtraction

  7. JayB - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:54 PM

    Rizzo’s second biggest blunder after MW….Yes the Lerners signed off on him at the recommendation of Rizzo and the pledge he had done his homework on his club house demeanor….that was clearly BS and Lerners have to be very very unhappy with Rizzo because we all knew the problems he would bring….Rizzo lied to Lerners and that is not going to go well – he is on thin ice. If he struggles to clean this all up or worse asks for more money then he is out will be cut lose before end of 2016. Scott B is the GM for the Nats anyway right?

    • jd - Oct 29, 2015 at 4:38 PM


      Your thoughts are so clouded by hate that you have lost the ability to make draw any sensible conclusions. Paplebon like Soriano (and Scherzer) was all about the ownership looking for a magic bullit to get over the top. It’s really not Rizzo’s style as a scout and talent developer to parachute someone in.

      If the Lerners weren’t all in on the Paplebon decision Rizzo would have been fired by now.

      • JayB - Oct 29, 2015 at 5:08 PM

        Scott Boras call to Ted is what you think? I do not see Rizzo standing in front of a mic and saying he did the due diligence and even after the event he feels he fits in if it was not his doing… sounds just like his MW talk…..I could be wrong.

    • bowdenball - Oct 30, 2015 at 9:43 AM

      Where would you rank his terrible mistake of trading for Denard Span when Corey Brown was already on the roster? That was you, right?

    • adcwonk - Oct 30, 2015 at 12:48 PM

      How do you know that Rizzo didn’t do due diligence? He reportedly talked to a bunch of Red Sox folks, who said that Paps was ok. Surely Rizzo knew that Paps had risks — so why would Rizzo _not_ do some investigating?

    • ricandersen - Oct 30, 2015 at 2:36 PM

      You started off so good. Rizzo has made two big blunders: MW and Papelbon.

      Then your comments get silly. Rizzo is not on thin ice. Besides those two blunders, he has dozens of brilliant moves. Our minor league system is top-10. He assembled a great team on paper (all the GM can do, he can’t perform once on the field). Rizzo will be with the team as long as he likes. The Lerners are quite happy with him.

      Look, his two mistakes were glaring. But don’t let that cloud your vision. Rizzo is, by almost all metrics, one of the best GMs in the game.

  8. Doc - Oct 29, 2015 at 4:15 PM

    There are a bunch of physical and verbal disagreements that occur in all clubhouses and in all sports. We just saw it all happen on TV this time. Most of the time we never hear about them.

    It may be beside the point but Bryce is on record as saying he wants Paplebon back if he can help the team be successful.

    Don’t think that the Cubbies or the Jays would turn down an opportunity to have him work out of their pen.

    • jd - Oct 29, 2015 at 4:32 PM

      Many disagreements, none of them are likely with someones hands around the team’s best player on TV. Bryce was also on record supporting MW, it’s window dressing. I assure you that he would be happiest never seeing that jerk again.

      The Jays discussion around this at the trade deadline in fact centered around the character issue and they chose to walk away exactly because of his reputation which he proceeded to confirm by his actions. Furthermore the Jays have an excellent young closer in Osuna so no they would want to have nothing to do with Paplebon.

      The Cubs are an interesting idea. Paplebon worked for Epstein in Boston so I’m sure Theo knows the man pretty well, my guess is they pass as well.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 29, 2015 at 4:46 PM

        No we don’t see everything that goes on behind closed doors but have some control and some class. We all have done stupid stuff and we get mad unfortunately it was on TV. Not taking up for him just saying. .I heard that ex Angels player attacked Albert Pujols after the season was over that player was gone and that wasn’t on TV. So yea he’s gotta go.

  9. JayB - Oct 29, 2015 at 4:38 PM

    Having been in locker rooms I completely agree with you Doc…..and it is the norm….what is not the norm is the over the top negatives to his personality. It is in love with himself….he thinks he is going to break Marino’s save records and he is only interested in his own promotion….that is not the type of guy you want in a clubhouse…..Werth and Gio….fine they fought in the dug out too….this is much much different and I agree I think he is done with us and any other MLB team…..He has a 10 year pension and Millions for not pitching next year or the year after…..he is done and should be.

  10. Another_Sam - Oct 29, 2015 at 4:44 PM

    Of course it ain’t my money. But I say make a statement. Do the right thing.

    • natsfan1a - Oct 29, 2015 at 5:45 PM



  11. veejh - Oct 29, 2015 at 5:30 PM

    The possibility of not being able to sign Harper because of this fiasco is infuriating. I hope the Lerners have already accepted the fact that they have to eat this, plain and simple.

    • jd - Oct 29, 2015 at 5:41 PM

      exactly. I am sure they have.

    • janebeard - Oct 29, 2015 at 7:16 PM

      Exactly. Yet ANOTHER reason why we can never see Pap in our uniform again. I will NOT be going to any games as long as he is on the team. And I know I’m not the only one. And I KNOW the Lerners won’t care.

      If they want to be a “character” team, they simply cannot keep this guy. The problem is, who would take him, after what he did?

  12. sunshinebobby - Oct 29, 2015 at 9:13 PM

    Oh, dear Lord. Nook Logan will come back and play for the Nats before this guy ever puts on a Curly W hat again. Rizzo’s. Worst. Move. Ever.

    Time to move on. Sooner the better. Goodbye D.C., hello Seattle.

    Is that far enough away?

  13. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 29, 2015 at 10:44 PM

    If the scuttlebutt is true, that Papelbon and his family have cleared out of their new home here, that would imply strongly, to me, that he knows for a fact he’s done here, either because he intends to be, or (more likely) he’d been told.

    Sending him out to the mound after got Matt Williams fired, and Matt had an excuse — he didn’t know. Sending him out to the mound NOW would be insane.

  14. langleyclub - Oct 29, 2015 at 10:50 PM

    Agree that Pap is probably not returning, but not putting a lot of stock in the theory that moving and selling his house is a strong sign. MLB players move all of the time. If Pap and the Nats reconcile, he will just buy another house, as he will need to do that for wherever he ends up.

  15. Pete "Hit 'n Run" Wood - Oct 30, 2015 at 5:52 AM

    thanks for the confirmation that “Pap-Smear” and his family moved out of their house!

  16. raleighnat - Oct 30, 2015 at 9:08 AM

    If there are no takers, this is one you have to eat for Harper and clubhouse chemistry.

  17. lesatcsc - Oct 30, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    I’ll begin by saying I agree that Papelbon will not be a Nat in 2016. I don’t think I believe it will be for the reasons that most here think, but the end result will be the same. I think Papelbon has to go because the incident with Harper was caught on TV and the perception now is that it is a “Harper or Papelbon” question, which is probably silly, but since that is the way it is perceived, that is the reality. Naturally the Nats will have to settle that question on the Harper side.

    I do find myself wondering how this would have played out had the episode not been caught on camera. Had Papelbon and Harper scuffled in the dressing room, would it have become a blood feud or would Harper have eventually admitted that he did dog it running out the fly ball and gotten over it, would Papelbon have realized he had gone over the top and apologized? We’ll never know. We’ll also never know if, given the chance, they would have worked out their differences and become great team mates. We do know that Papelbon would have to be certiifable to want to be a Nat next year. He committed the cardinal sin of getting into to a dispute with the Nats golden child and would have been booed unmercifully regardless of whether he and Harper had actually buried the hatchet and regardless of on field performance. So he not only has to go, he needs to go for his own good.

    I do enjoy all the posters who cheerfully disregard the words Harper has actually spoken on the subject in favour of the words they have put in his mouth and then chosen to believe. The notion that Harper won’t sign with Washington is silly too. What would it say about Bryce if he wouldn’t sign with the Nats because he didn’t like one guy on the team? What are the odds he really likes everyone else? What are the odds that he would like everyone on any of the other teams? When Bryce decides whether to resign I imagine there will be lots of things that may factor into his decision that will be far more important than whether he doesn’t get along with one pitcher in the BP. Just to list a few: money, length of contract, personal desire to live/play in another market, his family’s wishes, the opportunity to lay in a bigger market, the opportunity to play for a team with a better chance of winning, etc. Who knows, maybe he will sign elsewhere because he doesn’t like his neighbour. I understand that management has to move Papelbon now because if Harper signs somewhere else when the time comes and they didn’t do that they will be vilified for not doing it. I would just like to give Bryce credit for being way smarter than a guy that signs somewhere else because he doesn’t like one of the pitchers on the team.

    What will all those putting words in Bryce’s mouth say if Harper does sign somewhere else in a couple of years and Papelbon is the closer on that team?

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 31, 2015 at 11:29 PM

      What will all those putting words in Bryce’s mouth say if Harper does sign somewhere else in a couple of years and Papelbon is the closer on that team?

      Harper can’t be a free agent before 2019, three full more seasons. Papelbon won’t be closing games by 2019.





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