The big news on the first day of the Winter Meetings, unfortunately for the Washington Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo, revolved around a report that said reliever Jonathan Papelbon filed a grievance against the Nats over the suspension which effectively ended his 2015 campaign.
The grievance was specifically about the fact that he was suspended without pay after Papelbon and now-23-year-old Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper got into a dugout altercation this past September.
Papelbon's 2015 campaign ended when simultaneously dropped his appeal of a three-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball after he threw at/near the head of Baltimore Orioles' infielder Manny Machado.
He served the suspension of seven games total over the last week-plus of the regular season.
According to a report by Washington Post writer James Wagner, "... the team-issued suspension cost him about $284,000 of his $13 million 2015 salary.":
The person familiar with the situation said the main argument of Papelbon’s camp is that there is no precedent for a team-issued suspension over such an incident.
WEEI's Rob Bradford first reported that Papelbon filed a grievance on Sunday night:
Sources: Jonathan Papelbon files grievance against Nationals https://t.co/CvPzpGyjk7— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) December 7, 2015
When he spoke to reporters on the first day of the Winter Meetings on Monday, Rizzo addressed the issue, explaining that the Nationals were well aware that Papelbon filed the grievance in the days after his suspension.
"We knew about that the day after we suspended him, that there was going to be a grievance," Rizzo explained.
"That's business. It's not personal between Papelbon and the Nationals or the Nationals to Papelbon. It's all about business and it's something that we've known about for a long time."
Rizzo wasn't, however, willing or able to go into much detail about the grievance.
"We're not [supposed] to talk about grievance process at all," he said.
"Suffice it to say that [Papelbon] is a part of this team. He's on our roster. He's a really good late-inning pitcher. He's had a great career and we're glad he's on the club and can't wait to see him closing out games again."
Rizzo said there hasn't been much contact with the 35-year-old reliever since the season ended, though he noted that it wasn't out of the ordinary.
"We haven't had much dialogue other than a couple of the coaches reaching out to him and a couple of the players reaching out to him," he explained.
"Of course [Harper] and he had a nice conversation, so other than that, just normal amount of talking between front office and players like we have with everybody, every year."
He did say that he didn't interpret the grievance as a sign the closer, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the days leading up to this past July's non-waiver trade deadline, wanted out of the nation's capital.
"I don't see that at all," Rizzo told reporters.
"Like I said, this isn't personal, this isn't about the Nationals against Jonathan Papelbon. This is something that's a business move. The union does this routinely. It's not our first grievance that we've had and most of the time these things are done professionally and amicably."
So will the Nationals, as rumored, consider trading Papelbon this winter? Has there been any interest or more interest than in the past, when other teams were reportedly reluctant to take on the controversial reliever?
"I think at the stage of his career with the contract he has there has been interest in him," Rizzo said.
"There's been interest in several of our relief pitchers, and I can't gauge what interest he's had in the past, because he hasn't been with us in the past, but there has been interest in him."
Rizzo was also asked if the Nationals can/would consider eating any of the $11M Papelbon is going to be paid in 2016 after he and the Nationals renegotiated his salary as part of the trade.
"Certainly," he said. "We can make a baseball deal that works for us, there's no question about it. And we're going to make a baseball deal and that's the reason that we're here. There [are] no rules that we have to adhere to. We're not running anybody out of town. This is about -- we like the bullpen that we have. Last year we had the sixth best bullpen in the National League. It was better than league-average, it didn't end well for us. They pitched poorly down the stretch. But there [are] a lot of good, talented players in there and we don't have to move anybody if we don't want to. There are no money constrictions on us, it's just -- we're going to put the best bullpen that we can out there and the best 25-man roster that we can."
So can Papelbon and Storen, who was bumped from the closer's role when Papelbon was acquired, coexist in the 'pen?
"They're both highly-talented, extremely competitive, very good relief pitchers and if that's your eighth inning and ninth inning guys, we feel comfortable with that," Rizzo said.
He addressed the situation at the back end of the bullpen in an MLB Network Radio interview as well.
"My glass is always half full," Rizzo told hosts Todd Hollandsworth and Steve Phillips. "We had the sixth best bullpen in the National League last year, as bad as it ended for us, we still had a solid above-league-average bullpen throughout the season, so we have two quality pitchers at the back of the game, Papelbon and Drew Storen and they both have one year of control left, they'll both be free agents after the season and I expect both of them to come in professionally and hungry and ready to perform to their capabilities. If they perform to their capabilities, I think they're as good as any eighth and ninth inning guys in the league."