Washington Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker was asked earlier this winter if he thought that the presence of veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon could be a distraction for the Nationals as they try to put the disappointing, drama-and-injury-filled 2015 campaign behind them.
Papelbon, acquired by the Nats from the Philadelphia Phillies before last July's non-waiver trade deadline, had his season end when he dropped his appeal of a suspension for throwing up high at Baltimore Orioles' infielder Manny Machado and was suspended for four games for his role in the well-publicized dugout altercation with Bryce Harper.
Some segments of the fan base in the nation's capital might not like the fact that Papelbon is still on the Nationals' roster as Spring Training approaches, but Baker said in December that he wasn't going in anticipating a problem or expecting that the veteran would be a distraction.
"I don't see it as a distraction," Baker told reporters. "How am I going to foresee a distraction in advance? I've got to wait until I get there first."
"I don't even know Papelbon," he said. "I mean, right now Papelbon is my closer. I'm not one to foresee problems before they become a problem."
Papelbon is one of the few relievers who is heading into the 2016 season with a clearly defined role in the Nationals' rebuilt bullpen.
GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nats' front office have added a number of arms, signing veterans Yusmeiro Petit, Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelley and trading for hard-throwing young right-hander Trevor Gott.
Holdovers like Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, Abel De Los Santos, Matt Grace, Sammy Solis, Rafael Martin and more will be in the mix as well.
But how will things shake out? Who will be in the bullpen on Opening Day? How will Baker handle the mix of young, relatively unproven arms and the veterans who have proven track records?
Baker was asked earlier this winter for his thoughts on the mix he's been given to work with and what he thought about going with young arms vs veteran relievers?
"Young guys, you don't know what you're going to get, per se," Baker acknowledged.
"But you know something, I'm not opposed to young guys either, because some of the best guys I've had in relievers have been young guys and when young guys have success, they're probably more valuable than an older guy.
"Because now they feel -- the hardest thing to do in the big leagues is to feel that you belong in the big leagues and now you're facing guys that watched on TV and I was where they were at one point in time and Hank Aaron told me -- because I was like peeking at Bob Gibson and guys like that -- and he told me, 'Hey, quit peeking at them, and quit gawking at them. You respect them, but you've got to get them out, or you've got to hit this guy.'"
"Think about it," Baker added. "We need depth in the bullpen, because, I mean, man, nothing's worse than a blown save or to blow games late and there's nothing better than when the opposing team knows and your team knows that you go 6 ⅔ or 7 ⅓ and you turn it over to the bullpen that it's game time.
"The fans can feel it," he said. "Everybody knows when you've got a great bullpen out there that everybody feels more comfortable."
Will Papelbon provide that sense of comfort in the ninth?
Will the Nationals find the set-up men they struggled to find after trading Tyler Clippard last winter?
If Papelbon struggles, who will the Nats turn to first to close out games?
If you had to guess now, before pitchers and catchers have even reported, who's going to break camp and head north as part of the Opening Day bullpen?