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Rizzo on grievance: “That’s business. It’s not personal.”

Dec 7, 2015, 7:22 PM EDT

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NASHVILLE — The Nationals say they were aware of Jonathan Papelbon’s grievance against the club the day after they suspended him in late September and insist it doesn’t change their plans for the controversial closer.

“That’s business. It’s not personal,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Monday at the Winter Meetings, adding: “It was something we’ve known about for a long time.”

Rizzo wouldn’t go into specifics about the actual grievance process, which is expected to carry over into next spring, but spoke of Papelbon as though he remains in the club’s 2016 plans.

“Suffice it to say, Pap’s a part of this team,” he said. “He’s on our roster. He’s a really good, late-inning pitcher. He’s had a great career. We’re glad he’s on the club and can’t wait to see him closing out games again.”

That by no means guarantees Papelbon actually finds himself in a Nationals uniform come spring training or Opening Day. Rizzo did acknowledge there has been interest from other teams in the right-hander but stressed he would only deal him if presented with an offer that makes sense strictly from a baseball standpoint.

The same theory applies to Drew Storen, who was bumped from the closer’s role when Papelbon was acquired in July and has been unhappy with his situation since.

“We’re not running anybody out of town,” Rizzo said. “We like the bullpen that we have. Last year, we had the sixth-best bullpen in the National League. It was better than league-average. It didn’t end well for us. They pitched poorly down the stretch. But there’s a lot of good, talented players in there, and we don’t have to move anybody if we don’t want to. There’s no money constrictions on us. We’re going to put the best bullpen that we can out there, and the best 25-man roster that we can.”

The Nationals finished the season with the NL’s seventh-best bullpen but their collective relief ERA was 3.40 before the Papelbon trade, 3.55 after it. They also ranked last in the NL with a 47.6 percent save conversion rate after Papelbon was acquired.

Asked if he believes Papelbon and Storen could coexist another season as teammates, Rizzo responded: “They’re both highly talented, extremely competitive, very good relief pitchers. If that’s your eighth-ninth inning guys, we feel comfortable with that.”

Papelbon’s grievance is over the fact the Nationals withheld his pay during the 4-game suspension handed down by the club after the closer got into a dugout altercation with Bryce Harper that included him choking his MVP teammate. Given the relatively minimal amount of money involved — roughly $288,000 of the $13 million Papelbon made this year — it seems fair to question whether this is a move by the player to try to be released. If that happened, the Nationals would be responsible for Papelbon’s entire $11 million salary in 2016, making him a free agent.

“I don’t see that at all,” Rizzo said. “This isn’t personal. This isn’t about the Nationals against Jonathan Papelbon. This is something that’s a business move. The union does this routinely. It’s not our first grievance that we’ve had. Most of the time, these things are done professionally and amicably.”

Rizzo said there hasn’t been any contact between the Nationals and Papelbon since season’s end, aside from “a couple of the coaches reaching out to him and a couple of players reaching out to him.”

The Nationals face an unusual dilemma at these meetings, both seeking to add experienced late-inning relievers while also listening to offers on two experienced late-inning relievers. While it seems unlikely the club would acquire another prominent reliever this winter and still keep both Storen and Papelbon, Rizzo insisted that “whatever way we can improve the bullpen, we’d certainly look into it.”

The Nationals made a strong push for veteran setup man Darren O’Day over the last week, according to sources, ultimately losing out when the Orioles offered a fourth guaranteed year. That deal hasn’t actually been finalized yet, but sources said it still is expected to be wrapped up within the next few days and the Nationals would only be a fallback option for O’Day if the deal with Baltimore somehow fell through just shy of the finish line.

The Nationals to date have sat on the sidelines while other clubs have locked up several relievers to deals of at least three guaranteed years and at least $22 million, including O’Day, Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria. That’s more years and more money than traditionally has been given to non-closers, but it appears to be a fact of life right now.

“The market is what the market bears,” Rizzo said. “Those are talented pitchers coming off good seasons. It’s supply and demand. The supply was short and the demand is high.”

The Nationals have added one reliever to a major-league contract so far this winter: Oliver Perez, who signed a 2-year, $7 million deal. Rizzo said he was intrigued by the veteran left-hander’s ability to resurrect his career as a matchup specialist in recent years.

“He’s a veteran presence,” the GM said. “He’s had two really, really good seasons. He’s a person that knows several of the players and will fit into the clubhouse, and gives you a really good, left-on-left guy. And if he falls back to where he was two years ago, he was good against both sides of the plate. He gives us a good, veteran arm to go along with some of our good, young, electric arms. We feel it will be a good fit for us.”

The Nationals hoped to retain veteran Craig Stammen after a lost season in which he made five appearances before having surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his arm. But the two sides couldn’t agree on terms of a contract that would have been for less than the $1.8 million Stammen would have been guaranteed through arbitration, so the club decided not to tender him a contract last week.

“Craig has been a great competitor for years for us,” Rizzo said. “But the fact that the price tag was what it was, knowing that he’s just starting to throw, unsure about where his health is going to be in spring training, was the reason that we non-tendered him. We tried to re-sign him as we non-tendered him, and it just didn’t work out.”

  1. JayB - Dec 7, 2015 at 7:42 PM

    Dope……so many holes in what he said….just a ton of nonsense…..How can he say that crap with a straight face….Craig is needed and for under 2 million what is the harm in paying him….O Perez for 7 Million and nothing for the most dependable relief pitcher in club history….this team is done…RIzzo has lost it. He said he would call Pap and work out things a week or so after the season at the time…now he said no contact….Dope

    • Section 222 - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:29 PM

      Tons of holes I agree. But do you really think Stammen should have been signed for $2 million? I’ll pass on that. That money can be spent on a reliever who is actually healthy and who can be relied on for a decent performance.

    • sjm308 - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:30 PM

      I worry about your mental health and wonder how many positive thoughts ever run through your mind.

      • naterialguy - Dec 7, 2015 at 10:03 PM

        Hey it’s the season of the grinch. Let him enjoy his wallowing.

      • therealjohnc - Dec 8, 2015 at 11:05 AM

        I will say this for JayB: once when asked about his fandom, he wrote a fairly detailed, heartfelt account of his rooting interest and feelings for the game. I’ve never forgotten that. He just only posts when he’s unhappy/angry about one thing or another. Which has the effect of sharing all the negative while not sharing the positive. While it’s not the type of fandom that I follow (I believe that joy loves company as much as misery), after that post I’ve never regarded him as a troll. Eeyore, perhaps, but not a troll 🙂

      • natsfan1a - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:47 PM

        Seconding John. JayB is not a troll, and he is obviously passionate about the game and the team.

      • natsfan1a - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:49 PM

        As well, not pointing fingers at anyone in particular , but JayB’s been commenting in the natmosphere since day one, as far as I recall. He’s neither a bandwagon fan nor a fair weather fan. He may complain, but he’s still here. 😉

  2. natslive - Dec 7, 2015 at 7:45 PM

    Rizzo on MLB talking about willing to go into season with both Papelbon and Storen and that the bullpen has good young arms and that the construction last year was pretty good as they finished 6th in the NL in ERA. Must be trying to sell something. Reminds me of a used car salesman. I get he’s not going to say that they are bad and they are trying to get rid of anyone but still…..

  3. sunshinebobby - Dec 7, 2015 at 7:48 PM

    Oh, he is so gone. Pap will be sent so far away … he’ll be able to see Russia from the bullpen, as Sister Sarah would say.

    Guy has cajones, I’ll say that.

  4. edshelton2013 - Dec 7, 2015 at 8:21 PM

    I;m coming around to thinking both Papelbon and Storen will be the back end of our bullpen again.
    As Rizzo said, “the supply is low and the demand is high”. Take out the emotion–these two have a lot of talent.
    Come out and boo Pap if you like, but after he’s saved 20 games by July, maybe you’ll feel differently.
    Yes, there’s still plenty of time for Rizzo to pull off a trade, but at what price?
    We have other priorities–leadoff hitter, LH big bat.
    You’re selling low with both Pap and Storen.

    • veejh - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:02 PM

      Given what has transpired thus far in the relief pitcher market, this isn’t out of the question. I really do worry about the repercussions of not being able to sign Harper because Paps is retained.

      • lesatcsc - Dec 7, 2015 at 10:23 PM

        There is no credible evidence so far that that is the case. I know fans are projecting these thoughts on the two central characters, but it is entirely possible that neither Papelbon or Harper are overly concerned about it. Harper might be really keen to have a guy saving games so he can get the ring he wants.

  5. veejh - Dec 7, 2015 at 8:47 PM

    “Suffice it to say, Pap’s a part of this team,” he said. “He’s on our roster. He’s a really good, late-inning pitcher. He’s had a great career. We’re glad he’s on the club and can’t wait to see him closing out games again.”

    Does anyone actually believe this?

    • Section 222 - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:27 PM

      Nope. I understand why he’s saying it, but it’s not convincing me, and I’m sure it’s not convincing any of the other GMs. But that doesn’t mean he should say something else.

      Not sure why he’d do the interview though.

    • naterialguy - Dec 7, 2015 at 10:05 PM

      Apparently jayb does

  6. ehay2k - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:26 PM

    People didn’t like Soriano (the RP, not the LF) but he saved a lot of games and gave Drew a chance to figure out what ailed him in the minors. The Nats did pretty well. If Papelbon can pitch and not agitate he can still be an asset. And if he can pitch well in the early part of the season he becomes a trade piece. Dumping him would be sheer stupidity. And should Rizzo badmouth Papelbon now well, THEN he would be a dope.

    As for Stammen? Why would you pay $2M now for a guy who very likely won’t pitch a full season this year, and maybe not at all? I like Craig, and he really was an unsung hero in many ways, but he isn’t owed anything. Until the Nats, or any team, has an idea what he can do for them, no one is going to pay him. The fact that the Nats even made him an offer was a sign of respect. But paying him more than they thought was worth the risk, simoly out of some sort of need to have a non-throwing pitcher on the roster, is a dope move.

    JayB, rash actions just for the sake of action do not make a good GM. Trash talking does not make a good GM. Devaluing your own assets does not make a good GM. Impatience does not make a good GM. The fact is that Rizzo has been the best and steadiest GM in the NL East since he arrived here. You would rather have had Amaro, Wren, Jennings, or Minaya/Alderson? It’s just too easy to criticize from the cheap seats.

    I’m still in the “In Rizzo We Trust” camp. Does that mean I agree 100% with what he does? No. It means that on the whole, he has been a huge asset to the organization and his positive influence is undeniable. Calling him a dope, while offering no better, proven, and available alternative is simply trolling.

    • veejh - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:46 PM

      +

    • lesatcsc - Dec 7, 2015 at 10:25 PM

      Well said.

    • virginiascopist - Dec 8, 2015 at 6:22 AM

      Excellent post.

  7. sc - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:30 PM

    Looking like our closer

  8. unkyd59 - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:40 PM

    “….this team is done…”

    You heard it here, first… December 7…

    SMDH….

  9. senators5 - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:45 PM

    An old friend of mine said a few years back, “We play the games to win, Anything else is unacceptable. If you don’t believe that then you don’t belong here.” I believe Rizzo subscribes to that and also subscribes to the old adage, “Nice guys finish last with one exception, Gerhig.” If Papalbon comes back it will be because there is no one available better than him, plain and simple,

  10. senators5 - Dec 7, 2015 at 9:48 PM

    Oh and I forgot to say, four years for O’Day would have been a huge mistake so we have who we have and we all should move on.

  11. unkyd59 - Dec 7, 2015 at 10:30 PM

    Chapman’s price might be coming down…

    • trom1 - Dec 7, 2015 at 11:28 PM

      So Storen + cash for Chapman?

      • naterialguy - Dec 7, 2015 at 11:58 PM

        Evfin kidding me? Replace a choker with a shooter?
        No thank you.

  12. whatsanattau - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:16 AM

    Did they ever sign a bullpen coach?

  13. Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:33 AM

    Nah. I’ve already told my rep to call me when this guy’s off the team, not before.

  14. JayB - Dec 8, 2015 at 5:15 AM

    Let’s look at the current state of the Nats vs 36 months ago…….This is on Rizzo and while I do like what he has done compared to Jimbo……….Rizzo took a playoff team and turned it into a middle of the road roster with huge holes at many positions and a dysfunctional clubhouse culture. He now has a underperforming fast aging, leaderless team with big contracts nobody wants and no way to fix it. He has clearly lost the Lerner’s backing and rightly so given the huge amounts of Uncle Ted’s money has has wasted while taking this team backwards.

    After 2012 this team needed moves to purge the losing mentality and all he did was bring in the worlds biggest choker….pun intended.

    • Joe Seamhead - Dec 8, 2015 at 10:12 AM

      So says JB, the guy that adamantly wanted to trade for Chace Utley last year. Now, that would have been a dopey move.

      • JayB - Dec 8, 2015 at 4:37 PM

        yes

  15. JayB - Dec 8, 2015 at 6:32 AM

    and worst manager possible for this team

    • naterialguy - Dec 8, 2015 at 6:35 AM

      “But I thought you liked him”-Magenta

      • therealjohnc - Dec 8, 2015 at 11:06 AM

        “He always liked you”

  16. alexva6 - Dec 8, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    I see that there are two people on the on the planet that espouse “if I keep saying it it must be true”

  17. natsfan1a - Dec 8, 2015 at 12:52 PM

    On topic, maybe it’s just me, but I had to laugh at “it’s business, not personal.” Did Mike go on to remark that this is the business we have chosen? Eh, maybe I’ve just seen a certain movie a few too many times… 🙂

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