The Nationals upgraded their bullpen by trading for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon on Tuesday, a move that bumps fan favorite and all-around good guy Drew Storen from his ninth-inning role to eighth-inning setup duty.
Not everyone was enamored with the move, including, presumably, Storen, who declined to comment on the trade other than to say he’s had ongoing discussions with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and his agent about it. After the deal, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wondered why the Nationals would invite such drama into their clubhouse.
Papelbon arrives in D.C. with the reputation as a pompous, crotch-grabbing clubhouse cancer and certifiable jerk. He said he never felt embraced in Philadelphia, where he angered fans — and earned a seven-game suspension — by making a lewd gesture toward the crowd after blowing a save last September. He was vocal about his desire to leave the Phillies. (Can you blame him?)
“It’s just that time where it’s either you-know-what or get off the pot,” Papelbon said of his future in Philadelphia during the all-star break.
When Rizzo acquired Yunel Escobar during the offseason, there were questions about his character. Most of them were forgotten, as Escobar emerged as an invaluable addition to an injury-ravaged lineup. Here are a few reasons to think that the Papelbon acquisition will work out, too, and a few reasons that fans who initially panned the move might actually come to like the Nats’ news closer.
His teammates love him.
While Storen’s demotion to setup man might ruffle a few feathers in the clubhouse, Papelbon’s not a bad teammate.
“I don’t know if people are scared away by kind of his Papelbon-ish-type stuff, but look, I really think that’s overblown,” Philadelphia Daily News columnist David Murphy told Grantland’s Jonah Keri last week. “His teammates love him. The coaching staff loves him, and he takes the ball and he goes out there and pitches and he’s remarkably consistent. I’ve really come around on Jonathan Papelbon. I think he would help just about anybody. … Peripherals are one thing, but Papelbon has done it. He’s so consistent and he’s so mentally strong, and he’s been so durable, which is the thing that has surprised me.”
Phillies reliever Ken Giles, who has assumed the closer role in Philadelphia, had nothing but kind words to say about his mentor.
“I want to thank Pap for everything he’s done for me and the team,” Giles said. “I can’t thank him enough for guiding me through the way of the closer. I think I’m going to be a great closer.”
He’s an intense competitor, not unlike Bryce Harper.
A lot of people around baseball think Harper is a jerk. His confidence, honesty and competitiveness often rub opposing fans and players the wrong way, and Harper doesn’t give a damn. If Harper’s a jerk, he’s our jerk. That’s a good thing.
“This guy wants to win,” Rizzo said of Papelbon. “First and foremost, he wants to win. … He excels in pressure situations, and that’s his personality. Does it grate on the opposition at times? Yes, it does. But he comes with high credentials, high praise from his teammates and guys who’ve been around him.”
He’s closed out a World Series.
Papelbon has seven saves and a 1.00 ERA in 18 career postseason games. He saved three games in the 2007 World Series against the Rockies and got the final out in Game 4 of Boston’s sweep. He’s succeeded on baseball’s biggest stage.
He makes the Nats better.
Look, Storen is my favorite Nationals player. When he reached the big leagues in 2010, my wife ordered me a custom No. 58 Storen jersey T-shirt. When Storen switched his number to 22, I bought another Storen shirt, giving me one for each of his postseason blown saves. I would like nothing more than to see Storen conquer his October demons this year, but if that’s in the eighth inning instead of the ninth, so be it. Given the state of the bullpen before Papelbon’s arrival, who’s to say he would have a lead to protect this postseason?
In addition to bumping Storen to the eighth inning, Papelbon’s arrival means Manager Matt Williams will have to rely less on talented, but unproven, relievers such as Sammy Solis and Felipe Rivero in high pressure situations. Some combination of Casey Janssen, Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and David Carpenter (when healthy) can now handle the seventh inning.
For all the conjecture and angst among Nationals fans at the moment, this much is inarguable: A Washington team with Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen is better than the Washington team that took the field in Miami on Tuesday night, clinging to a lead in the National League East while the New York Mets made improvements both in their lineup and in their own bullpen.
That’s what should matter more than anything else, feelings and emotions and psyches included.
He has local ties. Sort of.
Papelbon was born in Louisiana, attended high school in Florida and went to college at Mississippi State. After his freshman year in Starkville, he played for the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts of what was then called Clark Griffith League.
He’s a goofball at heart.
Papelbon doesn’t take himself too seriously, as evidenced by his dancing days in Boston and his appearance picking football games on ESPN’s “College GameDay” last year.
He’s not fond of the Phillies.
So we’ve already got that in common. If you’re on the fence about the move, or vehemently against it, consider giving Pap a chance. Come October, you may actually enjoy rooting for the guy.