NASHVILLE — The Nationals' already unenviable dilemma with Jonathan Papelbon appears to have become even more complicated after a report Sunday night that the controversial closer has filed a grievance against the organization over his unpaid suspension at season's end.
Citing multiple major league sources, Boston radio station website WEEI.com reported the former Red Sox reliever filed his grievance against the Nationals for failing to pay his salary during the 4-game suspension the club imposed on him during the season's final week.
The Nationals said general manager Mike Rizzo is expected to comment on the reported grievance Monday during his daily meeting with reporters at the Winter Meetings. Most club officials were scheduled to arrive at the Opryland Resort late Sunday night.
Papelbon's case is built upon the question of whether an MLB club is allowed to withhold pay from a player it unilaterally suspended. Players who serve league-imposed suspensions aren't paid, but that process is spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement signed off by the players' union.
Papelbon, according to the report, claims there is no precedent of a player having his salary withdrawn after a team-issued suspension. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.
The 4-game suspension was handed down September 28, one day after Papelbon and teammate Bryce Harper got into a heated argument in the Nationals' dugout that resulted in the fiery closer choking the eventual NL MVP. The club announced at the time the suspension was without pay, with Rizzo saying he informed Papelbon of the punishment during a phone conversation.
"He was upset with the suspension, and we discussed about the nature of the incident and how I felt that it was an unacceptable way to handle yourself as a Washington National," Rizzo said that afternoon. "We parted amicably, and I left it with: We will see him shortly after the season."
Papelbon has not spoken publicly since he was suspended.
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One of the Nationals' reasons for acquiring the veteran closer from the Phillies prior to the July 31 trade deadline was the fact he was already signed for next season. Papelbon, who held (and still holds) limited no-trade rights as part of his contract, agreed to reduce his 2016 salary from $13 million to $11 million.
The Phillies actually picked up $4.5 million of the $4,830,601 that Papelbon was owed after the trade, so the Nationals were only responsible for $330,601 of his salary in 2015. Four days' worth of his full salary would amount to roughly $288,000.
Since season's end, the Nationals have been trying to figure out how to proceed with Papelbon. Sources have said the club has been gauging trade interest from other teams, but given his situation and his salary, they face a tough task trying to find a willing partner. If they release him, the Nationals would be responsible for his entire 2016 salary.
Rizzo has said he would only deal Papelbon and/or disgruntled reliever Drew Storen (who lost his closer's job to Papelbon after the trade) if it makes sense from a baseball standpoint.