The release of Jonathan Papelbon from the Washington Nationals seemed to be something always waiting to happen since the end of last season. It’s hard to say if there’s a market for him at the moment, although the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox have already been linked to the closer.
Why them? The Red Sox were Papelbon’s team from 2005 to 2011, winning a world Series there in 2007. The Cubs have Theo Epstein, who worked in Boston at the time, not to mention the Cubs have a lot of bullpen problems despite their trade deadline acquisitions. But the Nationals couldn’t find someone to make a trade with for Papelbon dating back to the offseason, and the reasons teamed stayed away weren’t just because of his $13 million salary, although very little of it remains now.
Papelbon did well below expectations once he was traded from Philadelphia to Washington last season, but his lowest point was choking Bryce Harper in the dugout, earning himself a suspension from the league and the team. The Nationals pretty much ruined Drew Storen with that trade, later moving him to Toronto. Papelbon hasn’t lived up to his previous statistics and on-the-mound reputation, especially this season: A 4.37 ERA, 3 blown saves in 22 opportunities, a 1.457 WHIP and 2.21 strikeout-to-ball ratio, all the worst numbers of his career. Add that to his bad clubhouse reputation, and it’s clear why teams stayed away.
Now that he’s a free agent, it’s easier to consider adding him. The Nationals initial plan was to drop him to the minors, but Papelbon requested a release, and eventually was granted one. Considering how most contenders value the clubhouse chemistry, and how things went South for the Nationals once they added Papelbon last season, it’s not going to be a surprise if no one adds him, even in a non-closer role. Papelbon lost his job when the Nationals added Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates, moving Papelbon to a different bullpen role, something he hasn’t done since 2005.