The Washington Nationals have been a complete disaster this season. Not a disaster in the 100-loss eyesore sense like the Phillies or Braves, but a disaster in that they were picked by most baseball pundits in the preseason to be the National League representative in the World Series, and now they won’t even make the playoffs. Where many analysts predicted brilliance, they’ve instead drowned in a sea of dysfunction. If you had asked me if there were any team that had a chance to win 100 games in 2015, I would have said the Nats without blinking an eye. Instead they might not even finish above .500.
Now, as if that weren’t bad enough, their douchebag closer and ill-advised midseason pickup is trying to kill their best player. In case you missed it, probable NL MVP-winner Bryce Harper got into a dugout brouhaha with noted jackwagon Jonathan Papelbon. Here’s the whole kerfuffle:
Now, we weren’t there and don’t know the whole story exactly, but apparently Papelbon took offense to the fact that Harper didn’t run as hard as he could have on a lazy fly ball and decided to get in his face about it. Why exactly Papelbon felt he had the right to call out Harper (or anybody on the team) in the middle of the dugout in a meaningless game when he’s only been with the team for six weeks is anybody’s guess.
On Sunday Night Baseball earlier tonight, John Kruk pointed out that (and I’m paraphrasing) there seems to be a problem, or Papelbon seems to have a problem, wherever he goes, and it’s not like this kind of thing is a rarity with him. He’s worn out his welcome in Boston and Philadelphia, and he’s probably completed the hat trick with the Nationals after today. It reminds me of the old saying, that if you meet one asshole during the course of your day, they’re the asshole, but if all you meet are assholes throughout your day, you’re the asshole.
I bring this all up because a) Papelbon’s behavior is unacceptable and it pissed me off, and b) I think this is potentially a watershed moment for the Washington Nationals franchise. Harper is hitting .339/.470/.663 with 41 home runs. The last player to put up those kinds of numbers was Barry Bonds. Harper is the best player in the National League and it’s not even close. Oh, and he’s only 22! There’s a chance that he’s going to put up those numbers for a very, very long time.
The Nats at this moment can either prove to their franchise player that they’re behind him 100 percent, or they can screw up the relationship completely. While the team is mostly going to say things in the press like “boys will be boys”, you can bet that anything they do or say that can be construed as taking Papelbon’s side will be perceived as a slight by Harper (and his agent, Scott Boras). That wouldn’t be good for the Nationals, if they have any hope of retaining Harper, who looks primed to be a monster for the next decade, beyond 2018.
Papelbon is a reliever who the Nationals didn’t need, and who I’m sure they’re already regretting trading for. He already caused a dust up when he drilled Manny Machado last week, and Harper’s post-game quotes about the incident (he hardly defended the plunking) are probably at the heart of what happened today. Papelbon has been worth half a win in his time with the Nationals and that certainly doesn’t make up for the gigantic headache he’s caused a team already in the middle of a tumultuous season. If you’re the Nationals, decided who to defend here shouldn’t exactly be Sophie’s Choice.
Frankly, Matt Williams should have thrown Papelbon out of the dugout this afternoon. The Nationals front office, if they have any prudence whatsoever, should suspend Papelbon for the rest of the season (he’s already appealing a three-game suspension for the Machado incident, anyway) and tell him never to come back. If the Nationals balk here and fail to demonstrate to Harper that they have his back, he’s probably going to decide that there are better franchises to play for once free agency rolls around in four years.