When the Nationals sent out their media availability for players for this weekend's WinterFest, there were two notable absences. Off the list were both Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen, the team's two very talented late-inning relief pitchers whose futures with the franchise are complicated for much more than simple baseball reasons.
Both Papelbon and Storen, it is widely known, could be traded this offseason; Papelbon because of his infamous attack on Bryce Harper in the team's dugout, and Storen because he has now twice been supplanted as closer and is probably best served by a change of scenery.
Besides the fact having both players at WinterFest may have been awkward, as every fan within an earshot would ask them about their futures, the reason given by the team was that each had something else to do. Papelbon was traveling out of the country on a pre-planned trip. And Storen had an undisclosed prior commitment.
Despite both players not being there, Papelbon in particular still had a presence at the event. Several off his teammates were asked about the veteran closer and if the altercation he had with Harper would cause any trouble next season, if Papelbon happens to still be on the roster come 2016.
The consensus on that question seems to be an emphatic 'no.' In their eyes, the dust-up between Harper and Papelbon was not nearly as bad as it looked, at least when put in the context of other disagreements common for a baseball clubhouse.
"I think it would have been weird if nothing like that happened. We should have been upset and should have been frustrated," Ryan Zimmerman said.
"Not that I would condone some of the stuff that happened, but I think it would have been weird if everyone was in a good mood, happy and high-fiveing each other. It's just one of those things where all of us were frustrated. We were trying as hard as we could to win and we weren't winning. A lot of us were battling through injuries. There were a lot of variables going on. People get upset. I think that kind of shows you what kind of team we have. I don't think we need to fight each other all the time. Sometimes that happens. But I didn't have a problem with anything that happened."
"It happens. I'm not worried. It doesn't bother me at all," Danny Espinosa said. "If you took your 24 other best friends and put them in a clubhouse, you guys will fight each other. If you guys had siblings growing up, you love your siblings to death but you guys fought. It happens. It's part of it. The unfortunate part of it is that it happened in front of the cameras. To me, that doesn't bother me. It's part of it. If you work a regular job, you don't get along with every single person you work with. That doesn't mean you won't work together. You're going to have disagreements. Even the guys that you love, you're going to have disagreements with. You have the highest level of baseball player with huge egos throughout baseball, like all professional athletes are. You have guys that have separate opinions. Now, clash those together. What are you going to get? You're going to get arguments and you're going to get fights. We're grown men."
"I think what people don't see is all the things that go on behind close doors," Jayson Werth explained. "I think that the cameras were on and everybody got to see it so that's why it's a bigger deal. Those things happen. People have disagreements and arguments. We're a big group of men that have pretty much been by each other's sides for months. There are going to be some disagreements. Fights happen. Even brothers fight. I don't think it's as big of a deal as everybody thinks it is. It will be fine. The bottom line is that we've got games to win. Petty little fights, they happen. But they don't last long in our minds. For fans and and the media, that's all they got so they run with it. But to us, I think that was over not long after it happened."
The Nationals still remain intent on shopping Papelbon, but at this point there is no guarantee they can get a worthy return in any deal. They will likely have to wait until the free agent and trade markets for relievers play out for his value to start rising again.
But even if they can't end up trading Papelbon, it sounds like many in the organization have prepared themselves for the possibility he will return to the team in 2016, if that's how the chips fall.