Jonathan Papelbon is no longer a member of the Washington Nationals and, according to the team, the decision was strictly baseball-related.
The Nationals saw an aging reliever who was no longer worth a spot on their roster, so they cut him. They strongly denied there were any behavioral issues, despite his history and despite the move coming just weeks after he was demoted from the closer position and relegated to a diminished role in the Nats' bullpen.
"It was a baseball decision. A roster move needed to be made when we needed a fifth starter for the first time in a couple weeks," GM Mike Rizzo said.
"We went with what we felt was our best 25 players, which was our best seven bullpen players. The business of baseball is you've got to cut a really good player, a really good veteran, a really good teammate like Jonathan Papelbon."
“It was a tough decision and [we] let him go because there wasn’t a real fit any more. And didn’t know where to use him," manager Dusty Baker said.
The Nationals first approached Papelbon on Friday with their plans to designate him for assignment. But Papelbon's agent asked the team to outright release him so he would have more time to seek a deal with another club.
The Nationals granted his release and Rizzo and Baker met with Papelbon late Friday night in Baker's office.
"We had a good conversation," Rizzo said. "He handled it like he's handled everything since he's been here, like a total professional. He's a man's man and a guy that takes on responsibility and doesn't make any excuses. He realized that he wasn't performing up to his capabilities the last week or 10 days or so and he recognized it."
"Pap understood, because he told us last night that he felt like he was putting pressure on me and putting pressure on the bullpen where guys had to pick up innings where they might not have pitched in ordinarily," Baker said.
Both Rizzo and Baker acknowledged how hard it was for Papelbon to be replaced by Mark Melancon after the Nats brought in the latter in a deadline deal in July. But both said Papelbon did not react in a way that made him a problem in the clubhouse.
"I think he handled it like a professional, like he's done everything else here. He never wavered in the clubhouse," Rizzo said. "He never wavered in his commitment to the team. Every time he went out there, he pitched to the best of his ability."
“I think he handled it as well as any man can handle it when the ball is taken from you because you get somebody else," Baker said. "He realizes that this is part of the game. It’s not a very pleasant part of the game."
Several of Papelbon's now-former teammates echoed that sentiment. They said he was not a distraction after Melancon was acquired.
"It's always going to be tough for somebody, but he couldn't have handled it any better, and I truly mean that," starter Max Scherzer said.
"He's a true professional in that regard. Look, he was struggling and we made a trade for a great closer. He completely was going to suck it up and accept his role to be a part of this team, do whatever he can to help fight for us and try to win, and ultimately win a World Series. He was a hundred percent committed to that goal. There was no crying about it, there was no whining about it, there were no demands about it. He just wanted to be a part of this team."
"Nothing different," reliever Shawn Kelley said. "He got ready, went about his business and was ready to pitch in any situation. He knew he wasn't closing, and he was just down there waiting for the phone to ring, just like the rest of us."
Both Scherzer and Kelley issued a strong defense of Papelbon as a teammate and said the idea he was a bad clubhouse presence was overblown.
"He was a great teammate," Kelley said. "I never saw a distraction the whole time I played with him this year. I don't know where that would have come from. He was a great teammate and it's tough to see him go."
"That's such a joke, guys. He's not a distraction whatsoever," Scherzer said. "He comes here to play every single day. He works his absolute tail off and competes on the mound for us. All that stuff last year, that was just a media circus. We were a hundred percent behind him. We understood all of his intentions and he was great for our team. He was great for everybody in this clubhouse. To sit here and say he was a bad teammate or anything like that, it's garbage to me... from a human aspect of this and the human side of the game, Pap's going to be missed in this clubhouse."
It is unclear what is next for Papelbon, whether he will land on his feet somewhere else either this year or in the offseason. The Nationals, though, wish him well. And for Papelbon, the feeling is mutual.
“He wished us the best, wanted us to win it, those were his parting words," Baker said. “Whether he pitches any more I don’t really know, but I hope he does."
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES