When the Washington Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies before last July's non-waiver trade deadline, the then-34-year-old reliever, who turned 35 in late November, was 17 for 17 in save opportunities with a 1.59 ERA, eight walks (1.82 BB/9) and 40 Ks (9.08 K/9) in 39 ⅔ innings pitched, over which he held opposing hitters to a .211/.270/.327 line.
Over 22 games with the Nationals following the trade, the veteran reliever converted 7 of 9 save opportunities and posted a 3.04 ERA, four walks (1.52 BB/9) and 16 Ks (6.08 K/9) in 23 ⅔ IP, holding opposing hitters to a .247/.296/.416 line, but his season ended in late September when he dropped his appeal of a three-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball for a hit-by-pitch on Manny Machado and was suspended for four games by the Nats for his role in a dugout altercation with Nationals' right fielder Bryce Harper.
The way Papelbon's 2015 campaign ended led to speculation that he will not return to the nation's capital in 2016, in spite of the fact that Harper reached out to the reliever and made sure there were no lingering issues and in spite of GM Mike Rizzo's insistence throughout the offseason that he was comfortable with the idea of Papelbon remaining in D.C. in 2016.
Rizzo, of course, also insisted he was comfortable with Drew Storen returning to his role in the Nationals' bullpen after the closer, who was replaced in the ninth by Papelbon after the deal, had reportedly requested a trade in the wake of the acquisition that bumped him from the closer's role.
He wouldn't deal either reliever, Rizzo said repeatedly, unless there was a "real baseball offer" from interested teams.
"I think we’re in the same place that we’ve always been," Rizzo said this past Thursday, as quoted by CSN Mid-Atlantic's 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."
Multiple reports, however, said that in spite of the public comments to the contrary, Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals' front office were trying to trade the relievers.
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier this week that the Nationals, "... according to rival executives, are trying to trade both of their top late-inning relievers, Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon."
On Friday night, the Nationals traded Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays in return for Ben Revere and a Player To Be Named Later.
On Saturday morning, when Rizzo spoke to reporters about the deal, he was asked what the future held for Papelbon?
"We make baseball trades," Rizzo said. "If there’s a baseball trade out there, then we’ll make it. We see Papelbon as being one of our late-inning relievers. He’s been very effective at it his entire career, including last year except for the last portion of the season. This guy is a quality reliever, quality closer. He’s been in the biggest stage that you can be in. He pitched the last out of a World Series game and has a World Series ring. He knows how to win. He brings a swagger to the bullpen and he’s a guy that we’re going to rely on to pitch late and leverage innings."
Having previously said he was comfortable with Storen in the eighth and Papelbon in the ninth if there was no deal to be made this winter, Rizzo was asked who would pitch the eighth now that Storen has been dealt?
"We’ve got several candidates internally, we feel, that can handle the role," Rizzo said.
"[Shawn] Kelley has done it for a long time. Shawn has shown the propensity to set up and close in a major market like New York City. He filled in for [David] Robertson in 2014 and had 12 holds there and four saves.
"His leverage index of innings was well above average in ’14. He’s pitched extremely well in New York and in San Diego. So we feel good about that.
"Some of the younger guys that we have, some impressive young arms... [Trevor] Gott that we received in the trade with the [Los Angeles] Angels. His leverage index was above average last year. Thirty-five percent of his appearances in his first year in the big leagues were in the seventh inning or later with a one-run [lead] or tie game."
"So this guy’s pitched in some big opportunities," Rizzo said. "Of course, we’ve got two of our own that we feel are going to be capable of pitching late innings and leverage innings in Blake Treinen and Felipe Rivero. And don’t forget, you’ve got [Yusmeiro] Petit who has obviously pitched a lot of big, meaningful innings in his career. So we feel good about where we’re at in the bullpen. We’ve got depth. We’ve got quality. We’ve got guys who have pitched in an array of roles in the back end of games."