This week we are counting down the biggest questions for the Nationals as they begin their 2016 spring training in Viera, Florida with their first official workout on Saturday. The final installment looks at the unexpected return of Jonathan Papelbon...
So, we're really doing this, aren't we?
What seemed like a no-brainer at the end of the 2015 season, that Jonathan Papelbon would not be on the Nationals' roster at the start of spring training, did not ultimately come true. It was a situation that seemed untenable to most, yet here we are over three months later and Papelbon and Bryce Harper are still teammates.
Despite the embarrassing moment for the franchise, the outcry from fans, the suspension without pay and the grievance over that suspension without pay: Papelbon remains the Nationals closer.
In some ways you have to hand it to the Nationals. They know the potential risks of keeping him on the roster. They know what happened last season and how the public reacted. They have to see the same backlash on social media that all of us who cover the Nationals do when we merely mention his name.
They know he could be booed at Nationals Park when he's introduced in front of a packed house at the home opener. And they know Papelbon has a ton of work to do to get back in the fans' good graces. Yet none of that swayed their thinking, as Papelbon is back with the Washington Nationals and ready for his 12th MLB season.
In a strictly baseball sense, it's easy to see why they brought Papelbon back. He was and remains the best option they have at closer. Remove him from the equation and they could be in serious trouble. After a 2015 season where their bullpen was a major problem, that would not be ideal.
Why they brought him back doesn't even really have to be asked because we know the answer they will give. But how they will make this work not only in the short-term but throughout the 2016 season will be fascinating to watch. It was the biggest story entering the offseason, and because Papelbon is still on the roster it will be the biggest story this spring and perhaps beyond.
Everyone involved has been asked on multiple occasions about the incident and the future of Papelbon in Washington besides the pitcher himself. He has not spoken publicly on the matter since he was suspended by the team.
All parties will surely be asked again this spring about how they can co-exist. It's unlikely, though, that we'll hear anything new that we haven't already been told by both Harper and Papelbon, and their teammates.
Those who have spoken on the matter in recent months have expressed confidence it will not be an issue. They say the common goal of winning a World Series will trump all differences between them.
Some have said it's like brothers fighting, that they can now get along despite all that has gone down. It's normal for full-grown siblings - including one in their mid-30s - to fight like that, right? Right.
To be fair, being part of a professional sports locker room is an experience few can relate to. The players are adamant they have moved on and they would know better than us about their own work environment, one of which most of us have never been a part of.
But that doesn't mean it won't be interesting to watch and analyze, especially after Opening Day as the Nationals navigate through the inevitable ups and downs of a baseball season.