Not long before the start of tonight's series opener with the Miami Marlins in Marlins Park, the Washington Nationals pulled the trigger on a deal for Philadelphia Phillies' closer Jonathan Papelbon that has the nation's capital divided.
The Nationals sent right-handed pitching prospect Nick Pivetta to the Phillies in return for the 34-year-old veteran closer.
The initial reaction on social media has been overwhelmingly negative, with fans unsure what to think of the move and the fact that Nats' closer Drew Storen is apparently going to be the eight-inning set-up man the Nationals have been trying to find all season in-house and around the league over the last few weeks with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching.
If there was any question about the situation in the bullpen after the deal, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo cleared all that up relatively quickly when he spoke to reporters, including MASN's Chris Johnson after the deal with the Nats' NL East rivals was announced:
"Papelbon is our ninth-inning pitcher. Drew will pitch the ninth inning at times when Papelbon's not available and be our set-up guy in the eighth inning as [we're] constructed today. Pap hasn't pitched too many three days in a row stints, so we're going to be careful with him. And we've got two terrific, elite ninth-inning guys that can close out games in pressure situations. We feel that we really intensified our efforts in the bullpen, and we think we got ourselves a bullpen that can really shut down the opposing teams."
It can't be an easy situation for Storen, 27, who has 29 saves, two blown saves, a 1.73 ERA, a 1.91 FIP, nine walks (2.23 BB/9) and 44 Ks (10.90 K/9) in 36 ⅓ IP this season. He talked to reporters, including MASN's Chris Johnson again, after tonight's game.
"Really, all I'm gonna say is that obviously I'm aware of the move," Storen said. "I've talked to [Rizzo] about it. I've talked to my agent. We've had some ongoing discussions. Until those have progressed, I'm just gonna leave it at that and no comment for now. But as the situation goes, I'll keep you guys posted."
Papelbon comes to the Nationals (along with $4.5M according to reports) with 17 saves on the season, a 1.59 ERA, a 2.94 FIP, eight walks (1.82 BB/9) and 40 Ks (9.08 K/9) in 39 ⅔ innings pitched.
According to a report by Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga tonight, the Nationals also agreed to a deal that pays Papelbon $11M in 2016:
Specifics on $$ for Pap: Phils give Nats $4.5M for '15. Papelbon waives option, new deal is for '16 but pays $8M next year and $3M in '17.— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) July 29, 2015
Nationals' manager Matt Williams talked about the acquisition after the Nats' 4-1 loss to the Marlins. So what did he think of the deal?
"All-Star closer," Williams said. "Been in pressure situations his whole career, so we're happy to have him."
The situation with Storen?
"Well, we want to make our team better," the Nats' skipper said. "So it provides us an opportunity to do that.
"It's not easy, but [Papelbon] is going to pitch the ninth. Circumstances dictate that he hasn't had a lot of opportunity, so if he's got to go three in a row that provides opportunity for Drew as well. So we'll mix and match as much as we can and try to close those games out. At this point, if we have the lead we want to try to do that."
Williams was also asked about Papelbon's reputation and what if any thoughts he had on how he'll fit in with the Nationals?
"All I care about and I think all all of us care about is him getting here and pitching for us and helping us win games," Williams said. "I don't know -- I haven't been in a clubhouse where anything has happened. I don't know. I can't speak to it. All I know is we're happy to have him and have him help us win."
• We talked about the Nationals' loss tonight, the deal for Jonathan Papelbon and more on the latest edition of Nats Nightly (skip to 2:30-ish to avoid technical difficulties):