There was a collective groan from some quarters of the nation's capital, from those who hoped they'd seen Jonathan Papelbon pitch his last inning in a Washington Nationals uniform last September, a half-inning after he choked Bryce Harper and slammed the NL MVP finalist against the back wall of the Nats' dugout in their well-publicized altercation, when venerable Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell quoted sources last week who told him the Nationals expected to have Papelbon and Drew Storen back in the bullpen in 2016.
Boswell quoted a source "inside" the Nationals who told him Harper actually reached out to Papelbon, making a phone call to the veteran reliever, "... to make sure their relationship as teammates is functional next season."
"Papelbon and Harper are fine together," Boswell wrote, quoting the source. "Harp just wants to win. All he cares about is that we have a 45-save relief pitcher who’s going to help us."
While acknowledging that it could be, "part eye-wash to facilitate a Papelbon trade," Boswell wrote that from what he heard last week, "Nats people also say the team’s current plan is to have both Papelbon and Drew Storen in the [back end] of their bullpen again next year with the expectation that they will work out a way to 'play nice together.'"
According to reports from the GM Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, however, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo is at least listening to offers for his relievers:
Mike Rizzo said no GM has inquired this week on trade availability of Stephen Strasburg -- but he's heard from teams on Papelbon and Storen.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 10, 2015
Rizzo said Nats won't trade Papelbon & Storen unless they receive a "real baseball offer." "As of today, they’re both in the bullpen."— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) November 10, 2015
In a follow-up article on Rizzo's conversation with reporters yesterday, Washington Post writer James Wagner elaborated on the content on his tweeted report.
As Boswell's source said, as of now the plan is to have both Papelbon and Storen in the bullpen next season, though Wagner also notes that, "[p]ublicly, the Nationals refuse to hurt the trade value of either reliever by appearing eager to deal them."
"'As of today, they’re both in the bullpen,'" Rizzo told the WaPost reporter. "'They’re both good relief pitchers. Unless someone makes us a real baseball offer, they will be.'"
Rizzo also praised Harper for deciding to reach out to Papelbon on his own initiative, calling it, "a real sign of leadership.":
"[Harper is] the one that initiated it and completed it," Rizzo said. "I think that goes a long way with your teammates in your clubhouse and shows that this thing is behind us and we’re here to win and that we’re going to get along and be as one."
Papelbon, 34, is under contract for $11M in 2016, coming off a 24-save season in Philadelphia/D.C. which saw him put up a 2.13 ERA, 12 walks (1.71 BB/9), 56 Ks (7.96 K/9) and a .220/.280/.260 line against in 63 ⅓ IP.
Storen, 28, is due to get a raise from the $5.7M he earned in 2015, with MLBTraderumors.com projecting an $8.8M salary for the right-hander in what will be the 2009 1st Round pick's seventh major league season.
Storen earned 29 saves in 31 opportunities before Papelbon was acquired late last July, putting up a 1.73 ERA, nine walks (2.23 BB/9) and 44 Ks (10.90 K/9) in 36 ⅓ IP, over which he held opposing hitters to a .212/.271/.250 line.
He flamed out fairly spectacularly, however, after a brief, dominant run following his move to a set-up role, putting up a 6.75 ERA, seven walks (3.38 BB/9), 23 Ks (11.10 K/9) and a .233/.325/.425 line against over his final 18 ⅔ IP before he suffered a season-ending non-displaced fracture in his right thumb slamming the safe in his clubhouse locker shut after a particularly frustrating outing against the New York Mets on September 9th.
Without Papelbon and Storen there's a big hole to fill at the back end of the Nationals' bullpen. With both, there's still some work for Mike Rizzo and Co. to do this winter.
Are they in the market for Darren O'Day as rumored?
Would they revisit the possibility of acquiring Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman after reportedly expressing interest in both before they acquired Papelbon?
Do they really plan on having Storen and Papelbon back? Really, really?