WASHINGTON — Just about everybody in D.C., from media to fans, has an opinion on Jonathan Papelbon.
The controversial closer was released on Saturday, just weeks after the Nationals traded for Mark Melancon, and differing reports emerged as to what the dynamic was with the pitcher and the team. It ultimately became known that Washington was set to designate Papelbon for assignment, spurring the former closer to ask for his release. The original reports implied Papelbon was upset with being displaced from the closing job, which was why he asked for his release, but that eventually was proven false.
In the wake of his release, his former Nationals teammates rushed to his defense, with Max Scherzer and others stating he was a terrific teammate.
Monday on Grant and Danny, Casey Stern of MLB Network Radio went on a tear about the embattled pitcher and the misconceptions about his attitude around D.C. Among the topics to draw his ire: “uninformed media,” Twitter, Nationals fans and Drew Storen.
“Well first of all, I think this is one of the more misunderstood things that I’ve seen happen in a lot of years,” Stern began. “And I think that, to be honest with you, most of your fanbase, at least that I’ve talked to, has it stuck in their head the way it’s happened in part because of uninformed media, and they’ve got it all wrong.”
He later brought up former Nationals reliever Drew Storen, a fan favorite who imploded when Papelbon was brought in midway through last season to take over the closing role. Storen was furious about the development and reportedly visited GM Mike Rizzo’s office with his agent shortly after the trade was announced. Storen then struggled late in the season, and his season ended prematurely when he slammed his locker out of frustration and broke his thumb.
Storen was then shipped out in exchange for center fielder Ben Revere in the offseason while Papelbon remained in Washington, a swap that infuriated many fans.
“What happened with Drew Storen happened because of Drew Storen, not because they brought Papelbon in. Drew Storen, from day one, was talking with his agent, complaining, whining about it, didn’t perform well on the mound. I like him, anybody who’s ever talked to Drew likes him, but he’s been off the reservation mentally ever since.”
However, Storen floundered in Toronto, managing just a 6.21 ERA in 33.1 innings, and he was eventually cut. He signed with the Seattle Mariners and has a 5.40 ERA through 8.1 innings with them.
Stern compared the Storen situation to that of Andrew Miller, the elite closer who was traded to the Cleveland Indians. Miller, Stern says, walked into Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s office shortly after he arrived and made it clear he was happy pitching wherever he was needed, as long as it helped the team; the Indians had several quality back-end relievers already before Miller arrived.
Essentially, Stern said Storen put himself before the team and complained about his role while Miller put the team first and accepted whatever role he was needed in.
“That’s about Drew Storen. The fans there are never going to accept that or understand that, but they’re wrong,” Stern said. “Because it’s about Drew Storen. That’s number one. Number two, they’re also wrong about Jonathan Papelbon behind the scenes. Everything bad about Twitter came down in that hour [when news of Papelbon’s release broke]. I won’t name names, but two prominent people in our business who had no idea what they were talking about, jumped on what a terrible guy Papelbon was, and then probably felt like idiots when they realized that he didn’t request to his release because he wasn’t closing, he requested it because he was getting cut and wanted to have a quicker chance to get to another team. I’ve talked to Dusty Baker on the air, off the air, I’ve talked to others, all anybody says is good things.”
Stern then mentioned how much Papelbon’s teammates rave about his influence, including reliever Ken Giles, who credits Papelbon for taking him aside years ago and mentoring him.
“[Papelbon] is kind of a nut and he pitched terribly, I don’t take either of those things away, but he’s a way better guy than people think, and 99 percent of his teammates on all teams he’s played for like him.”
So if Papelbon was such a great guy, why did the Nationals part with him? After all, he’s ninth in MLB history in saves, a six-time All-Star, and he helped the Boston Red Sox win the 2007 World Series. He was brought aboard to bring postseason experience and stability — he has a 1.000 career ERA and a 0.815 career WHIP in the postseason — so why would they get rid of him before the postseason?
“He’s out of a job because he stunk,” Stern says. “If Yasiel Puig didn’t stink, they’d be dealing with him with the Dodgers, and he’s a hundred times worse than Papelbon is on his worst day. He’s out of a job because he stunk. If A-Rod was still good, he’d be on the team. They cut him because he stunk.
“But I don’t care about anybody’s on-air conversation, ever, and I never care about that stuff, because case in point, I had D.C. fans down my throat being crazy about how oh, everybody loves the Strasburg shutdown, and was having players left and right texting me how much they thought it was a debacle. Davey Johnson waited about 35 seconds after they said he was done at the end of the year to sit and tell everybody in the media how stupid he thought it was all along, so I get that.”
“This has nothing to do with podiums or any of that garbage,” Stern went on. “He’s not on this team for one reason: He sucked. That’s why he’s not on this team. We get down to the bare bones of it, he sucked. But the idea that the media jumped on him like he had asked for his release because he wasn’t closing — he asked for his release because he got cut. The Nationals wanted nothing to do with him anymore because they didn’t know what the role was or where to fit him. Dusty was telling me when I spoke to him two days before his release that they literally didn’t know what to do with him. So that’s why he got cut. He stunk. End of story.”
Oh. Well that answers that.
The whole rant is available above, and the entire conversation with Grant Paulsen is available below.