Before he acquired veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked to the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres about potential deals for their respective closers, left-handed flamethrower Aroldis Chapman and right-hander Craig Kimbrel.
Reports at the time said the asking price was exorbitantly high, with both teams asking for two or three top prospects in return.
According to a report from ESPN.com's Jayson Stark at the time, the Nationals, "told other clubs they have no interest in trading their best pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, or their highly regarded infield prospects, Trea Turner or Wilmer Difo, in any deal."
In his postseason autopsy on what went wrong for the 2015 Nats, Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga went back to revisit the leadup to the Papelbon deal, writing/confirming that, "Rizzo’s top choices as trade targets were two of the best closers in the game, Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman and San Diego’s Craig Kimbrel," but after talking to the Reds and Padres, "... it quickly became obvious that the cost for either would be too much."
"'We’ve made it clear to teams that we’ve talked to that there are certain guys that we’re not going to talk about,'" Rizzo said, as quoted by the WaPost reporter, who explained that, the Nationals were not interested in trading either Turner or Giolito, and the, "Reds and Padres each wanted two of the Nationals’ top five prospects," so, "Rizzo moved on."
While the talk at the time was of the Nationals pursuing a set-up man, Rizzo was pursuing closer options since, as Svrluga wrote "some Nationals officials" were, "scarred by the two most devastating losses in team history, both involving [Drew] Storen," and, "Rizzo’s mind was made up: closer."
When it was clear the top targets were too costly, the Nationals' GM turned to the Phillies and acquired Papelbon in return for minor league starter Nick Pivetta.
Storen, who'd converted 29 of 31 save opportunities to that point, putting up a 1.73 ERA and a .212/.271/.250 line against in 38 games and 36 ⅓ innings pitched, reportedly requested a trade after Papelbon was acquired.
Though he went on an impressive run in the immediate aftermath of the deal, with five scoreless and hitless outings in which he threw just 44 pitches to the 16 batters he faced, things went south after that with the 28-year-old closer-turned-set-up man putting up a 9.22 ERA (16 R, 14 ER) and a .293/.388/.534 line against over his final 13 ⅔ IP.
His 2015 campaign ended when he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right thumb while slamming his clubhouse locker shut.
Will Storen get the trade he reportedly requested this winter?
Papelbon's run in Washington somehow ended more disastrously when the veteran reliever and Nationals' MVP candidate Bryce Harper got into a dugout altercation.
Papelbon was suspended for four games by the Nationals and he dropped his appeal of the three-game suspension Major League Baseball handed down after they determined he intentionally threw at Manny Machado.
Did the dugout incident with Harper end Papelbon's time in the nation's capital? When Rizzo was asked in a press conference on the altercation, he told reporters it was a decision that would be made once the season ended.
"He's under contract," Rizzo said. "We're going to evaluate every moving part that we have after the season and we'll make all those decisions once the final out is made in 2015."
Granted, that is the same thing the General Manager said about manager Matt Williams a week before he was relieved of his duties.
"We're going to make 2016 decisions after we finish 2015," Rizzo said. "He's under contract to be the manager next year."
MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article this week on who stays and who goes this winter, listed Papelbon as one of the players who is, "All but gone."
Storen, Ladson wrote, is a possible trade chip, and a player for whom a "change of scenery" might be a positive.
So where does that leave the Nationals when it comes to the ninth inning? It's not the only bullpen-related question for the Nats. Ladson noted that Casey Janssen's $7M option for 2016 is unlikely to be picked up. He thinks that it's "doubtful" Matt Thornton returns next season. Aaron Barrett, after undergoing Tommy John sugery, won't factor into Washington's 2016 plans. David Carpenter?
Felipe Rivero should be back. Blake Treinen needs to figure out how to retire left-handers. What will Craig Stammen look like when he's ready to return? Sammy Solis? Rafael Martin? Matt Grace? Taylor Jordan? Erik Davis? Abel de Los Santos?
Could highly-regarded right-handed pitching prospect Reynaldo Lopez end up in a bullpen role as some are predicting/suggesting?
And who's going to close games? Will the Nationals have to go out and spend big money on a closer (not ideal) or make a trade?
For a team Rizzo said this week was still close to contending for a World Series championship, they have an awful lot of bullpen questions right now.