We are counting down the 10 biggest moments of 2015 for the Nationals as we approach New Year's Day. In the ninth installment, we look at the fight between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon...
The weekend of Sept. 26-27 at Nationals Park had already gotten off to an eventful - and bizarre - start. On Saturday, the Nationals were officially eliminated from the playoffs. But it came in a walk-off win over the Phillies, so the postgame clubhouse featured a wide array of emotions depending on which direction you looked.
There were pockets of players hooting and hollering in celebration of a big win at the end of a trying season. Then, there were plenty who were more focused on the big picture and the realization that their season was now truly over. It was also a day that happened to begin with a Nats player's dog using the center field grass as a bathroom during pregame warmups. Don't worry, the dog's owner cleaned it up.
Sunday was supposed to be the easy day, the one that didn't matter. The obituaries of the 2015 Nationals season had already been written and they were playing the lowly Philadelphia Phillies. Bless the fans who had bought tickets and showed up that afternoon because it was two teams heading nowhere and football was on.
Little did all of us know that Sunday would include an event so big that it would become the lasting memory of the Nationals' 2015 season and one of the lowest moments in the organization's history.
After flying out to left field in the bottom of the eighth, NL MVP Bryce Harper walked back to the home dugout, only to get screamed at and then attacked by Jonathan Papelbon. Cameras from both team's television networks rolled as Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat and slammed him into a wall before teammates intervened.
The footage was shocking and it quickly circulated around social media and on TV. Yet there was Papelbon, going back out there to pitch the top of the ninth and face seven more batters before rookie Sammy Solis came in to replace him.
It is still hard to believe all that went down and the effects are still being felt by the Nationals. They suspended Papelbon and would like to trade him this offseason, but he still remains on the roster. Now he has filed a grievance against the team for lost pay during his suspension.
An ugly situation has somehow managed to get even worse and the only end in sight would seem to be a trade. Unfortunately for the Nats, a trade will not be easy. Papelbon is owed $11 million next season, has a no-trade clause, and it's never good for leverage when everyone in the sport knows you need to get rid of somebody.
On paper and in a baseball sense, Papelbon would fit well with the Nats who currently do not have many options for the backend of their bullpen. The free agent market has dried up and Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman have already been traded elsewhere. On paper, Papelbon and Drew Storen could form a dangerous combination in the eighth and ninth inning, despite what happened in 2015.
But, as the Nats already saw with Papelbon, sometimes things go beyond baseball. And the presence of Papelbon in their clubhouse could cause problems once again next season. Plus, it would be a hard sell to the fanbase to bring back a player who was being booed at home even before he assaulted the best player in the sport.
The Papelbon situation is a tough one for the Nationals and it's likely to be resolved some time in the next six weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Their best hope is for another team to get desperate for relief help and make a suitable offer. Right now, however, getting rid of Papelbon remains much easier said than done.
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