Most baseball writers have that one player that they fixate on; the guy who, to them, is so outrageous, or so ridiculous, or so mesmerizing that they can’t stop writing about him. Craig at HBT had A-Rod, and we here at F.I. collectively had Jonathan Papelbon.
Word came today from Mike Rizzo, the general manager of the Washington Nationals, that Jonathan Papelbon has asked for his release from the team, and that release has been granted. This means that the Paps era in Washington is over, ending a weird, sad period of bizarre meltdowns, psychotic teammate attacks, and the destruction of Drew Storen’s career.
Paps is an asshole. Everyone knows it. He is an asshole who used to be a complete dominant winner, though; that’s why he was able to get away with being such a jerk. He spent his first seven years with Boston, being an absolute nasty beast on the mound (and probably off of it, too), and was a key reason why the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series.
In the twelve years that Paps has been in the league, with Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, he has a career ERA of 2.44. Paps also has 368 career saves, which are the ninth most all time and third among active pitchers. But his career with the Nationals is nothing like this.
In 37 appearances this season, Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.37 ERA. His most recent blown save came on 7/26 against the Cleveland Indians, when he entered the game with a 6-4 lead in the ninth, but could not retire any of the batters he faced – five altogether – before the Indians came back to win.
Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, the Nationals picked up Mark Melancon from the Pirates, reigning NL closer of the year, who has gone back to his winning ways and whose professionalism and actual baseball skill has won him the closer role. In the days since Melancon joined the club, Paps has only had two appearances, both of them in low pressure, earlier inning situations.
Obviously, this did not sit well with Pitching’s Greatest Monster, who raised a stink when he first came onto the scene in Washington, effectively stealing the closer’s role from Drew Storen. Storen sunk so low after touching the toxic sludge that is Paps that he completely melted down and ended up breaking his thumb with his locker from frustration.
When Storen was traded to the Blue Jays, Papelbon had the closer’s job all to himself, but did not inspire anything in his team or the fanbase. Everything came to a head in late 2015, when one of the most iconic moments of the past several years in baseball occurred during a heated game.
When Paps put his hands on once and future king Bryce Harper, it was a bridge too far. Choking out a teammate, especially the premier player for your organization? Not cool. While Harper said he has forgiven Paps for trying to strangle him, it’s been icy between Paps and the team ever since, and the fanbase has been clamoring to kick the pitcher to the curb.
All of these shenanigans came to a head with Papelbon’s poor pitching performances this year, and the Nationals (and Paps) must have felt that it was better to part ways than to continue this charade of Papelbon being an accepted member of the Washington clubhouse.
Someone will be desperate enough to sign Paps. They will look at his body of work and think that they can reclaim him from the scrap heap. Papelbon is obviously a big name, despite not being all that great in Washington. A team who needs a closer, even a tarnished “elite” one like Paps, will take the risk. Hell, the Cubs grabbed Chapman, who just assaulted his own domestic partner. Papelbon only choked out his outfielder, right?
In the meantime, join me in being half excited and half sad that the Papelbon Show has pulled up stakes and has taken the circus on the road.