When the Washington Nationals met with reporters at Nats WinterFest this past December, one player after another was asked about the late-September dugout altercation between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon, which led (in part) to the veteran reliever, acquired before the non-waiver deadline in July, being suspended for the remainder of the regular season, capping off a frustrating and disappointing campaign in the nation's capital.
Mike Rizzo reportedly entertained offers for the embattled reliever this winter, but though he did trade Drew Storen, no trade for Papelbon, who is owed $11M this season and has a partial no-trade clause, ever came about.
So, how will everyone move on from the well/over-publicized incident? How can Harper and Papelbon coexist? Will it be a problem for the Nationals this season?
One player after another has said it was already behind them... and was something they had moved past almost immediately.
"I think what people don't see is all the stuff that goes on behind closed doors," Jayson Werth explained.
"In that instance, I think that the cameras were on it and everybody got to see it, so I think that's kind of why it was a bigger deal.
"But those things happen. People have disagreements and arguments. We're a big group of men that have pretty much been by each other's sides for seven months. There's going to be some disagreements and fights happen, even brothers fight, so I don't think it's as big a deal as everybody thinks it is. I think it will be fine and the bottom line is we've got games to win. So, little, petty little fights and stuff like that that happen they don't last real long in our minds.
"Maybe fans and media, that's all they've got so that's all they run, but to us I think that was over not long after it happened."
"Not that I would say that I would condone some of the stuff that happened, obviously," Ryan Zimmerman said, "but I think it would have been weird if everybody was in a good mood, happy, high fiving each other, so it's just one of those things where all of us were frustrated. We were trying as hard as we could to win and we weren't winning.
"I don't think we need to fight each other all the time, which sometimes that happens, but yeah, I didn't have a problem with anything that happened."
Tyler Moore said Papelbon apologizing for his actions helped everyone move on from the incident.
"I think actually from the day Papelbon kind of told everybody he was out of line a little bit, I think that's whenever it dropped," Moore said.
"We're all men and we have a lot of pride and ego that comes into that and sometimes it's easier to let it go than holding a grudge the whole time. It was a very disappointing year last year in the way it ended up and just got kind of ugly, so we know this team and organization is built with class and has a lot more class than that and I think we can bring it back to how it should be."
"If you took your twenty-four other best friends and put them in a clubhouse, you guys would fight each other," Danny Espinosa told reporters.
"If you guys had siblings growing up, you love your siblings to death but you guys fought. It happens. It's part of it.
"The unfortunate part of that is that it happened in front of the cameras. To me, that doesn't bother me. It's part of it. If you work a regular job, you don't get along with every single person you work with. Does that mean you don't work together? No. You're going to have disagreements. Even the guys that you love, you're going to have disagreements with.
"So it doesn't bother me at all. You have the highest level of baseball player with huge egos throughout baseball -- all professional athletes are -- you have guys that have separate opinions. Now, clash those together. What are you going to get? You're going to get arguments and you're going to get fights. We're grown men. It happens. So I'm not worried. Actually, it doesn't bother me at all."
Harper called Papelbon earlier this winter to make sure everything was behind them as veteran Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell reported:
"Papelbon and Harper are fine together," one person inside the Nationals said, referring to Harper’s phone call. "Harp just wants to win. All he cares about is that we have a 45-save relief pitcher who’s going to help us."
And Harper? How does he feel about heading into the 2016 campaign with Papelbon still part of the roster?
He was asked this past week in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen about the lingering anger in the nation's capital and the frustration amongst some fans who are unhappy that Papelbon is still a National as Spring Training approaches.
"I just think what I need out of him and what he needs out of all of us is for us to be a family and it's something that if he goes out there and saves 55 games a year then we're going to win a World Series," Harper said.
"It's something that we all look forward to. It's something that we need to make happen and we're excited. That was squashed that day. I think everybody made such a big deal of that -- too much a big deal of that -- and it's all in the past and we haven't even brought it up since that day.
"So, we're looking forward to this year like I said. I want him to go out there and save 60 games, try to win a Cy Young and do everything he can to help this team and likewise, I'm going try to do everything I can to help this team win as well. It takes 25 guys, not just one. As a team we're going to go out there and do everything we can to build on what we can in Spring Training and do everything we can to bring something back to D.C."
Is this all just players saying the right thing? Is Harper, who hasn't been shy about sharing his opinions in the past, just toeing the party line?
Surely it doesn't benefit anyone to badmouth Papelbon publicly, regardless of what they might think. But is it possible that they did immediately put it behind them?
And what about the fans? The players may have put it behind them, but should the Nationals fan base accept that it's been squashed and move on as well?
Are we headed for a season of booing the closer every time he enters the game in Nationals Park?
Are the Nationals underestimating fan anger towards the veteran reliever who had a bad reputation before he arrived in Washington and managed to live up to all the bad things people heard about him when he choked the Nats' NL MVP?