Yesterday it was announced that after long speculation, not only would Jonathan Papelbon be dealt, but he’d be dealt to the Washington Nationals. This deal happened after a bad ending with Papelbon in Philadelphia during which he consistently asked to be traded.
And judging by the way things have gone this year for the Philadelphia Phillies, who could blame him?
In the days leading up to the trade, the Nationals showed a large interest in acquiring a closer, especially Papelbon. To get Papelbon to go to Washington, all they had to do was flash “first place” and “ninth inning” in his face, which they did.
While many believe that the one-two punch of now-setup man Drew Storen, who is 29-for-31 in save opportunities this year, and closer Papelbon will be an instant success, there’s a lot of reason to believe otherwise.
The main reason is Papelbon’s attitude. The former Boston closer hates when things go wrong, and has had no problem displaying that in the past, including during his time in Philadelphia. He’s been requesting to get out of there for over a year now and though he’s done his job as a closer, he still had no problem creating a stink.
He has made crude gestures to the crowd, and is not afraid to publicly display his displeasure with subjects regarding his team.
In 2013, he came out and said his team needed an entire makeover. He referenced the Boston Red Sox of 2011 — a team that went 7-20 in September and fell short of the postseason during one of the biggest debacles in MLB history. He was on that team, and they decided not to bring him back.
Hmm, I wonder why?
He also said, “I definitely didn’t come here for this,” after his team lost its eighth straight game in June of 2013.
Fast forward to 2015, and Pap has gotten his wish. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told ESPN today, “This guy wants to win. He’s a winner.”
Rizzo is right in saying that he’s a winner and that he wants to win. But here’s the problem — what if brass doesn’t change its tune with the Nationals, and they continue to miss their expectations? It is not set in stone that the Nationals will finally run away with the NL East, for the fact that they can’t seem to shake loose the offensively challenged New York Mets who are only one game behind them.
The Nats are 3-7 in their last 10 games. It’s not that the Mets are so good: it’s that the Nationals just aren’t. Injuries have played a huge role in the Nationals’ struggle to shake free of the Mets. Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jayson Werth were all in the lineup last night. Denard Span should be back soon as well. With all of these players back, the Nationals could finally start living up to expectations.
Judging by the way things are in the National League right now, there will only be one team from the NL East competing to lift the treasured World Series trophy in October. Currently, the two teams in the Wild Card spots for the NL are the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Nationals continue their ways and let the Mets leap-frog them, there will be no postseason for them.
Papelbon is postseason-starved, and if the Nationals can’t make it, the comments and quotes from Papelbon should be hysterical–unless, of course, you’re a Nationals fan.
The second reason, which hasn’t been considered by anybody, is that a controversy between Storen and Papelbon may become a real thing.
Storen obviously would like the closer’s job back, and rightly so due to his success there. Rizzo also said that Storen will be called on to pitch the ninth to give Pap a rest. What he doesn’t mention is what will happen if Papelbon struggles?
If Papelbon were to go through rough patches, even one rough patch for that matter, he’d be ousted from the ninth. It is not entirely uncommon for relievers to struggle when they switch teams. Remember Heath Bell and Grant Balfour? Fernando Rodney is another one with the Seattle Mariners. And how about Eric Gagne‘s forgettable time with the Red Sox in 2007, when his ERA skyrocketed from just over 2.00 in Texas to 6.75 in Boston? It happens a lot, and those are just a few examples.
To get back on track, the pressure is all on Papelbon’s shoulders. He came into Washington and took the closer’s spot away from one of the best closers this year in Storen. If Papelbon flops, manager Matt Williams will have no problem putting Storen back in.
Obviously, this would trigger Papelbon to say some things that would have a nuclear bomb-type effect on the team.
The bottom line is that the Nationals have severely underachieved this season. To start hitting expectations, the goal should have been to bring in a player who was good on the field, but also would have that clubhouse presence that every team so dearly desires.
Papelbon’s got the on the field-results straight. But when it comes to saying the right things and having a good impact in the clubhouse, he sure doesn’t.