Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo has been adamant this winter that he's willing to keep both Jonathan Papelbon, acquired at the non-waiver deadline last July, and Drew Storen, the Nationals' '09 1st Round pick, in the Nats' bullpen in 2016.
Rizzo told reporters at the General Managers' Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida last month that he wouldn't just give either of the Nats' relievers away if he did deal either one of them.
"As of today, they’re both in the bullpen," he explained, as quoted by Washington Post writer James Wagner.
"They’re both good relief pitchers. Unless someone makes us a real baseball offer, they will be."
Rizzo said the same when he spoke to the MLB Network's Harold Reynolds and Matt Vasgersian last Friday morning.
"We like [Papelbon] and [Storen] at the back end of the bullpen," Rizzo reiterated.
"They're both under contract and unless something happens where we get a real baseball deal to move one of them they're going to be in the back end of the bullpen, but we still need to upgrade the bullpen."
Rival executives, of course, aren't buying it. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote last week that, "clubs who have talked to the Nationals say they're trying to remake the back of their bullpen by trading both of the men who closed for them last year, Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen."
Stark quoted an anonymous official from one team in the market for a closer, who "... laughed about Washington general manager Mike Rizzo's recent quotes saying he doesn't feel any pressure to trade Papelbon in particular.":
"Everyone knows the situation," the official said. "They're saying they don't have to move him. But after the guy chokes [Bryce] Harper, they've gotta do something. And they've got to eat some money, because nobody's taking $11 million."
Now-former pitching coach Steve McCatty talked on MLB Network Radio this morning about how the Nationals found themselves in the position they're in now, explaining the thinking behind acquiring Papelbon and what happened after the trade that brought the right-handed veteran from Philadelphia.
As McCatty explained it, there was never an issue between the two relievers themselves.
"I don't think there was anything personally going on with Papelbon or Drew," he said. "It's just the fact that Drew was 29 out of 31 his saves before we picked up Pap, and you guys understand the dynamic, when you're the closer down there, you want to be the closer, that's what you do.
"Even a few years ago when we had to move [Tyler] Clippard into that area, when he went back to the seventh or eighth inning and pitched those roles, he was mad too, but he took it in stride, and those guys when they close, they don't want to move. So I understand that Drew did not want to go and do the eighth inning, but he, being a professional baseball player, when Mike [Rizzo] ended up getting Papelbon -- and I guess he knew a day or two or whatever, they had talked before it was announced -- but Drew took it in stride and said, 'Hey there's a lot of things I don't like doing but I've got to do,' so he tried to do it and it did not turn out.
"There was no animosity between the two, it was just that Drew, the first couple times he went out of the bullpen after we got Pap, he was outstanding, he hardly threw any pitches, he did great, then he went into a slump of sorts, and then ended up breaking his hand.
"But, I mean, the reason we're talking about the trade, we had lost Clippard, traded him the year before, and we were never able to get that eighth-inning guy that we had had for years, where we could have Storen and Clippard seventh and eighth inning and have Soriano, who did it the year before, but then we had Sori get bad, and that just shows you how critical that seventh and eighth inning is in the big leagues and we didn't have that. So [Rizzo] felt that if we could improve ourselves in that way and Papelbon was having a good season with Philly, that hey, you get Pap, you let him close, Drew has been through this, we know he can handle it, it hurts, but we thought he would be able to handle it and made the decision to try to make the club better. And unfortunately it just didn't work out and then Drew ended up breaking his thumb, but that was the killer for us most of the year, we just weren't able to get that seventh and eighth inning spot locked down by anybody."
Will the Nationals be able to solve their seventh and eighth inning issues this winter?
Will Storen and Papelbon remain in the Nats' bullpen or will it be a new mix of relievers at the back end of the 'pen in 2016?