After some waffling, it appears the Washington Nationals do in fact want to be done with the short-lived Jonathan Papelbon experiment. Papelbon came in, divided the clubhouse, melted down, caused Drew Storen to melt down, and incited a near-brawl by throwing at Manny Machado‘s head more than once, all while forcing the Nationals to guarantee his 2016 option year. Papelbon, 35, is owed $11 million next season, and is coming off an All-Star season. That All-Star nod came before Papelbon was traded and blew two of his nine saves with the Nationals while allowing four home runs in 23.2 innings pitched.
The Nationals want to move Papelbon, but it will be difficult, and it will certainly involve them eating most, if not all, of the money owed the All-Star closer for 2016. If there’s any consolation for the Nationals, Papelbon only has one year left on his contract. The situation is not nearly as bad as what the Los Angels are dealing with in paying Josh Hamilton over $73 million to play for the Texas Rangers for three years. If the Nationals can find someone willing to house Papelbon in their bullpen for a season, they may get a decent prospect in return.
Would anyone want Papelbon?
Right now, it seems there are at least three teams who have the potential to contend in 2016 who need a closer. The Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, and Detroit Tigers could use a closer next season. The Astros are the least likely to want to take a chance on Papelbon, as they have a young, tight-knit clubhouse. No need to introduce a potentially cancerous pitcher for one year. The Astros are a lock to trade for a closer this winter, but Papelbon is most likely at the bottom of the list. Ken Giles of the Philadelphia Phillies would be an outstanding target for the Astros. Giles would also be a great target for the Diamondbacks, as he is a New Mexico native and attended college in Arizona. Like the Astros, the Diamondbacks have a young team and are building something nice. The Tigers already traded for Francisco Rodriguez, but might consider adding another veteran arm. Papelbon could be a less-than-terrible fit for a team that always needs bullpen help. The Rangers do not have an elite closer, and have a few former Phillies on the roster after trading for Cole Hamels. Perhaps Papelbon could be kept under control there.
The Nationals should do whatever it takes to unload Papelbon. They may be the front-runners for Darren O’Day, especially considering the reliever’s wife works in Washington as a Fox News reporter. The Nationals also have the pieces to strike a deal for Aroldis Chapman. To make either of those moves happen, the Nationals need Papelbon gone. Can the Nationals risk allowing another team to make a better for Chapman before they are able to unload Papelbon? That’s a risk the front office might have to take, as Papelbon will be much easier to trade after all of the other elite closers change teams. Regardless, it is highly unlikely that Jonathan Papelbon throws another pitch in a Nationals uniform.
It was good while it lasted, right?