In his year-end look at what went wrong for the Washington Nationals in 2015, Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga took a close look at the deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that brought Jonathan Papelbon to the nation's capital in late July.
In spite of the fact that Drew Storen was on his way to an impressive year as the Nationals' closer, having saved 29 games in 31 opportunities to that point, with a 1.73 ERA and a .212/.271/.250 line against in 36 ⅓ innings pitched, and because a suitable eighth inning option was never found after the Nats traded Tyler Clippard, the Nationals were in the market for a closer as the non-waiver deadline approached.
"Some Nationals officials," Svrulga wrote, "... were scarred by the two most devastating losses in team history, both involving Storen," in the postseason in 2012 and 2014, and GM Mike Rizzo was determined to acquire a closer.
Rizzo reportedly checked in on both Aroldis Chapman, then with the Reds, and Craig Kimbrel, then with the Padres, but found the price (in prospects) prohibitive and ended up focusing on Papelbon instead:
"He couldn’t add money in the middle of the season, an edict of ownership. The Lerner family approved the sixth-highest payroll in the game, some $164 million, but wouldn’t spend more for a playoff push. Rizzo thus began talks with the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies about Jonathan Papelbon."
The Nationals sent minor league right-hander Nick Pivetta to the Phillies, guaranteed an option for 2016 for Papelbon that would have vested anyway and guaranteed that Papelbon would close in Washington.
The veteran reliever agreed to lower the price of the 2016 option (from $13 to $11M) and waive his no-trade protection to allow the deal to go through.
Storen reportedly requested a trade at that point, telling reporters that he was aware of the deal, but not saying much else:
"All I’m going to say is obviously I’m aware of the move. Talked to Mike [Rizzo] about it. Talked to my agent. We’ve had some ongoing discussions. Until those have progressed, I’m just going to leave it at that."
After a few dominant outings as the Nats' eighth-inning option, the '09 1st Round pick imploded, struggling down the stretch. His season ended in early September when he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right thumb slamming the locker in his clubhouse stall shut.
Papelbon's season ended when he dropped his appeal of a three-game suspension for hitting Manny Machado and was suspended for four games on top of that for his part in the well-publicized dugout altercation with teammate Bryce Harper.
Until tonight, however, Rizzo maintained that even after Storen's struggles and Papelbon's suspension, he was willing to keep both on the roster in 2016 unless he received a "real baseball offer" for his relievers.
"As of today, they’re both in the bullpen," Rizzo said in November, 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."
He said the same when he spoke to reporters at the Winter Meetings. If there wasn't a reasonable deal out there, the Nationals were happy to keep both.
"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.
As recently as Thursday, Rizzo reiterated his stance, when he was asked about interest in Storen and Papelbon again after a press conference in D.C.
"I think we’re in the same place that we’ve always been," Rizzo said, as quoted by CSN Mid-Atlantic writer Chase Hughes:
"If there’s a baseball trade that makes sense, we would make it. We’re not gonna trade anybody to move a player because we like both of them. We think they’re both talented relievers. Both of them on our team makes our bullpen better."
Less than twenty-four hours later, however, there were multiple reports which said that the Nats were still trying to trade their relievers.
"The Nats, according to rival executives, are trying to trade both of their top late-inning relievers, Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon," FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote.
WaPost writer Barry Svrluga was apparently hearing similar reports:
Also on Nats: While much is being made of them keeping/not keeping Papelbon, hearing they continue to pursue trade of Drew Storen.— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) January 8, 2016
Jon Heyman was the first one to report on Friday night that the Nationals finally found a deal for one of the two:
Revere for storen is agreed upon— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 9, 2016
Ben Revere, 27, with two years of team control remaining before he becomes a free agent, and a projected $6.7M salary coming to him in 2016, put up a .306/.342/.377 line with 22 doubles, seven triples and two home runs over 152 games and 634 plate appearances in a 1.9 fWAR campaign with the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays in 2015.
Storen, 28, with one year of team control and a projected salary of $8.8M for 2016, finished the 2015 season, which was his sixth in the majors after the Nationals drafted him out of Stanford in the first round of the 2009 Draft, with a 3.44 ERA, a 2.79 FIP, 16 walks (2.62 BB/9) and 67 Ks (10.96 K/9) in 55 IP, over which he was worth 1.1 fWAR.
Will the Nationals trade Papelbon now too? Will he remain in the nation's capital as the Nats' closer?
Storen's departure leaves the Nationals with less depth in the bullpen, but the acquisition of Revere gives the Nationals another left-handed bat after the Nats signed Daniel Murphy to a three-year deal which was announced this week.
Revere gives the Nationals a fourth outfielder who can play center or left, and has played right and can either start in center every day or fill in/split time with Jayson Werth and Michael Taylor to keep everyone fresh throughout the season.
Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals' front office have already added a number of relievers to the mix this winter, signing Yusmeiro Petit, Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez and acquiring Trevor Gott to go along with Papelbon, for now, left-hander Felipe Rivero, right-hander Blake Treinen and others.
If they find a willing partner and trade Papelbon, do they have to go out and add another arm to the mix somehow?
Is Rizzo done building the 2016 roster or are there more moves to come?