As far as I am concerned, Jonathan Papelbon threw his last pitch as a member of the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon. He threw that pitch shortly after wrapping his hands around the throat of superstar and likely National League MVP Bryce Harper. The All-Star closer’s short stay in Washington has been an utter disaster. In the span of a week, he threw repeatedly at the head of Manny Machado and then had the Harper incident. Earlier today, the Nationals announced that Papelbon had dropped his appeal of the suspension handed down for throwing at Machado. Additionally, the team suspended the 34-year-old for the final four games of the season. It’s guaranteed that Papelbon will not pitch again for the Nationals this year, but will the team have the stones to jettison him completely?
There will be no trade partners. The Nationals can call around the league all they want. Hard-throwing relief pitchers are no longer a scarce commodity, and Papelbon has lost a tick on his fastball. He did not pitch well upon joining the Nationals. Throughout his career, he has been a divisive, middle-finger t-shirt-wearing force in locker rooms around the league. He notoriously grabbed his crotch multiple times while a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, cursed out reporters, demanded trades, watched porn in the clubhouse, made comments regarding gun control, and called his own team in Philadelphia losers. If it’s any indication of how the rest of the roster feels about Papelbon, as the Baltimore Orioles charged the field upon seeing Papelbon throw at their third baseman, the Nationals stood stock still, rooted to their posts in the field.
He’s clearly going to be a hot commodity around the league entering his age-35 season with a guaranteed $11 million coming his way.
Papelbon has burned all the bridges imaginable around the league. He once had the gall to suggest that he, not Mariano Rivera, should be the one to record the save in the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Papelbon will be 35 years old on November 23. He’s been in the league 11 years, and his act has not changed once. The Nationals would be delusional to expect this tiger to change his stripes in 2016.
The Nationals can do all of the due diligence they want and make calls around the league. They can make 29 calls to 29 different front offices, but no one is going to bite on Papelbon coming on the heels of his disastrous two months in Washington. That leaves only one option — the Nationals must eat the $11 million owed to Papelbon next year. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but the team must take its medicine. Papelbon’s reputation preceded him when he entered the clubhouse in Washington, and he did nothing but live up to it. It’s easy for me to tell the Nationals to eat $11 million dollars because I will likely never make an $11 million decision in my life. All indicators, however, point to releasing Papelbon being the right decision. The Nationals organization was torn apart with the addition of Papelbon, and the only way to begin picking up the pieces left from an awful decision is to move forward without the one player most responsible for dividing the clubhouse.
Clueless manager Matt Williams could not remove Papelbon from the game on Sunday, claiming he did not know the severity of the incident. Williams is either lying, or even more inept than possibly imagined. The terrible handling of the dugout brawl will be the final misstep for Williams, who was most likely on his way out the door to begin with. Jonathan Papelbon must follow him if the Nationals are to have any chance of turning their team around in 2016. This is the only option to begin the process of getting this once promising franchise back on track.