When asked to explain the move Sunday morning, General Manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement: “He was released for personnel reasons.” A team spokeswoman said the Nationals could not expand on that. When reached by text message Sunday afternoon, Jeffress did not divulge how the team explained its decision to him. He did say the reason the team gave him was “not true” — without clarifying what that reason was — and expressed frustration with how the situation was handled.
The right-hander did not get a guaranteed contract this winter despite coming off a strong year with the Chicago Cubs. Jeffress, 33, finished with a 1.54 ERA in 23⅓ innings and notched eight saves. Now, with less than a month before the regular season, he is back among the many experienced relievers still looking for a club. He did not appear in an exhibition for Washington before it let him go.
The Nationals signed Jeffress to deepen the back end of their bullpen. They did so with knowledge of Jeffress’s history of off-field issues.
Since he was drafted in 2006 — out of Halifax County High in South Boston, Va. — Jeffress has faced two criminal charges and two MLB-mandated suspensions. He was suspended in both 2007 and 2009 for violating Minor League Baseball’s program for drugs of abuse (not performance-enhancing substances). In January 2012, while pitching for the Kansas City Royals, he was arrested on domestic violence charges for disorderly conduct, assault and criminal damage.
In the wake of that arrest, Jeffress described the incident as an argument with his girlfriend. She later dropped the charges, and he was sentenced to 20 hours of community service. Then in 2016, while with the Milwaukee Brewers, he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated.
After the Nationals added Jeffress on Feb. 22, Manager Dave Martinez spoke of Jeffress’s character and “spunk” on the mound. Martinez was not, however, asked to specifically address Jeffress’s past suspensions, domestic violence charge or DWI arrest or what the team’s background check looked like. Martinez spoke with reporters Sunday morning before Jeffress’s release was public knowledge.
About 45 minutes later, though, Jeffress tweeted that his former agent “jus ruined my life. I’ve been nothing but a great friend and client to him. For over 10 years. Thanks buddy.” Later in the afternoon, Jeffress tweeted: “I’m not what they say I am, I’m what God says! I don’t deserve this false negativity!”
He is now represented by Roc Nation Sports, and his current agent did not respond to multiple requests for comment Sunday. His former agent declined to comment on Jeffress’s initial tweet about him.