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Nats bullpen could be just fine if they trade Papelbon

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Nats bullpen could be just fine if they trade Papelbon

The Nationals still have time to make additions and tweak their roster ahead of 2016 spring training, and Opening Day is over two months away. But as of Feb. 1, there remain questions in the backend of their bullpen.

The big one is whether Jonathan Papelbon will be on the team when pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla. in less than three weeks. What seemed last fall like an obvious decision for the Nationals, to cut bait and get rid of him, now doesn't carry the same certainty. Papelbon still remains on the roster, as hard as it is for some to believe.

Even with Papelbon, who is currently set to be their closer, it is not clear who will pitch the eighth inning. And if they dispatch Papelbon, they will need to figure out who pitches the ninth, as well. In today's game, with such an increased emphasis on the bullpen (see Royals in 2014 and 2015), it would seem unwise to enter a season without a proven setup man and closer.

The Nationals, however, could be just fine even without Papelbon. Sure, another experienced reliever would help to add depth. That could be through a free agent signing, a trade, or if Bronson Arroyo somehow makes the rotation out of spring and bumps Tanner Roark back to the bullpen.

If the Nationals trade Papelbon after already sending Drew Storen to Toronto, the eighth and ninth inning would potentially go to some combination of Felipe Rivero, Trevor Gott, Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley and Yusmeiro Petit.  

That may scare some Nats fans, but that group does have potential. Kelley and Petit are both proven veterans who could competently pitch the seventh or eighth inning. Rivero, Gott and Treinen each offer high ceilings as young, hard-throwing pitchers.

Rivero would seem to be the safest bet of those three and some would argue should get a shot at either the eighth or ninth inning in 2016. He was very good as a rookie with a 2.79 ERA in 49 appearances and is a scary sight for opposing hitters with a high-90s fastball from the left side.

Most importantly, however, is that it's not entirely necessary to have a proven closer entering a season. In almost every year there are quality late-inning relievers to be had in mid-summer trades. One could argue it is one of the most attainable positions to fill midseason among those that are considered important.

If you need an elite center fielder midseason, or a top shelf starting pitcher, those are both hard to find and expensive to acquire. Every year, however, there is a very good reliever on a very bad team available for trade.

Last year the Mets got Tyler Clippard in a July trade for pitcher Casey Meisner, who has solid minors numbers but is nowhere to be found on MLB.com's top 100 prospect list. In 2014, the Orioles traded for lefty Andrew Miller and he was a huge factor in their run to the ALCS. If Eduardo Rodriguez becomes an ace in Boston, it will hurt, but Miller was lights out during his time in Baltimore.

In July of 2013, the O's got Francisco Rodriguez, the Indians traded for Marc Rzepczynski and the Dodgers acquired Carlos Marmol. K-Rod left Milwaukee for Baltimore with a 1.09 ERA in 25 appearances, while both Rzepczynski and Marmol overcame early season struggles to dominate with their new teams.

In 2012, the Cardinals scooped Edward Mujica from the Marlins. He went on to hold a 1.03 ERA in 29 regular season appearances and then post a 2.35 ERA in nine playoff outings as the Cards pushed the Giants to seven games in the NLCS.

The Nationals have been on both sides of this equation. In 2010, as they were headed towards another last-place finish, they shipped All-Star closer Matt Capps to the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were charging towards an AL Central title and thought Capps was the missing piece. They gave up Wilson Ramos to get him, but Capps pitched very well in the second half of that season.

This past season it was the Nationals who were seeking relief help as the trade deadline approached. They sent pitching prospect Nick Pivetta - another who did not make the top 100 - to Philly for a six-time All-Star and former World Series champion who brought with him a 1.59 ERA in 37 appearances. His name? Jonathan Edward Papelbon. 

That may rank among the worst roster decisions made in this town by any team in recent years, up there with the Redskins signing Albert Haynesworth and the Wizards drafting Jan Vesely sixth overall. But the point still stands: if you need a late-inning reliever, you can usually get them after the season begins and often times for not that much.

Here's a theory: setup men and closers just aren't that valuable to rebuilding teams. What's the point in having a dominant closer if your team can't provide him save opportunities to truly maximize his value? If closers were that valuable during the rebuilding process, then Craig Kimbrel would still be on the Braves and Aroldis Chapman would still be in Cincinatti.

There are 19 days until the Nats' first workout in Viera for pitchers and catchers. Will Papelbon be there? We still don't know, but if he is gone the Nationals will still have plenty of time to find his replacement, whether from within or in a trade with another team.

[RELATED: Giolito leads four Nats on MLB.com's top 100 prospects list]

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm