UPDATE: Washington has officially released Papelbon, according to a team announcement. Papelbon will soon be free to sign with any club for the remainder of the season.
ORIGINAL: Jonathan Papelbon has reportedly requested his release from the Nationals, according to a report from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick.
Papelbon hasn’t appeared in a game since August 6th and has pitched just 2.1 innings in the entire month of August. The team’s former closer was officially ousted from the ninth-inning role when the Nationals acquired Mark Melancon from the Pirates at the trade deadline. However, Papelbon hadn’t recorded a save since July 10th. Since that date and prior to getting Melancon, Shawn Kelley recorded a pair of saves while Blake Treinen also got one.
Papelbon has requested his release and #Nationals are trying to figure out best way to do it, industry source says. Could be soon.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) August 13, 2016
This is the second season in a row that the Nationals have had to remove a reliever from the closer’s role. Papelbon was acquired last season to help bolster the bullpen that already had well-established closer Drew Storen. It was reported then that Papelbon needed to be guaranteed the closer’s role in order to allow the transaction to take place.
The Nationals were even motivated to end the closer controversy over the offseason, but Papelbon’s trade value largely diminished by that time thanks—at least in part—to a televised fight between he and teammate Bryce Harper, that resulted with Papelbon choking the NL MVP. Instead then, the Nationals traded away Storen to the Blue Jays in exchange for Ben Revere, a trade that hasn’t worked particularly well for either side.
The 35-year old reliever has had storied success as a closer for much of his career, despite many reports of his abrasive personality in the clubhouse. However, in 35 innings this season, Papelbon has managed an ERA of 4.37 and a FIP of 3.68.
While framing of the narrative may revolve around Papelbon not coping with being replaced as well as Storen did, there might be more to this story. According to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, Papelbon was approached by management about his release first—via designation for assignment. Papelbon though, acting ‘professionally’ asked for his release instead:
Nationals came to Papelbon, told him they were planning to DFA him because they needed a roster spot, could not afford to send out others.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) August 13, 2016
Papelbon asked to be released instead, since DFA takes 10 days to finalize. Nats agreed to take that route instead. Nothing official yet.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) August 13, 2016
Despite what fans and media think we know about Papelbon, this narrative also checks out. Two hours prior to reporting that Papelbon asked for his release, Crasnick tweeted a more open-ended report that seems to read now like the Nationals were the ones making the decision, as opposed to Papelbon being controlling.
Furthermore, the Nationals haven’t used Papelbon at all for the past week. That teeters on the line between legitimately not wanting to hurt your team’s postseason odds and willfully displeasing your employee so they ask for a release—which constitutes constructive discharge.
By the sounds of it, the Nationals now just want to use the roster spot, and the Papelbon era in Washington should likely draw to a close shortly.