Sep 23, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcherJonathan Papelbon
(58) reacts after hitting Baltimore Orioles third basemanManny Machado
(not pictured) during the ninth inning at Nationals Park. Baltimore Orioles defeated Washington Nationals 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
2) A Closer
Along with a full bill of health for all of its players, the team also likely wants to find a reliable closer this offseason — one who can help shut opponents down in the late innings of close games without having a mid-inning mental breakdown or choking players.
Of course, this isn’t technically a problem for the Nationals — at least not on paper. Indeed, the team has two qualified, successful closers on its roster in Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen. But if the events of last season are any indication, the team might want to part ways with both players this offseason in favor of a new closer.
Storen was phenomenal in the first half of 2015 but completely fell apart in the second half when the team acquired Papelbon to take the ninth-inning role. Furthermore, the right-hander is entering his final season before free agency and it’s not a secret that he wouldn’t mind being traded by the Nationals — a team that many believe has treated Storen unfairly throughout his career.
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Papelbon was a solid closer for the Nationals during his brief stint with the team in 2015, but ultimately tarnished any success he might have had by choking Harper in a dugout skirmish late in the season. The trade for Papelbon was a disaster for the Nationals, and there’s a good chance the team will deal him this offseason if they can find a team willing to take him.
Needless to say, the Nationals have a major question mark in the backend of the bullpen, and a closer is high on the team’s wish list this holiday season. Perhaps the team will trade one of its current closers and keep the other (it’s highly unlikely that Storen and Papelbon can coexist). Another option is for the team to bring in an elite closer, such as Aroldis Chapman, whom the Nationals have already been linked to this offseason but who is currently under investigation by MLB for domestic abuse allegations.
In any event, the ninth inning role next season is one of the biggest uncertainties remaining for the Nationals this offseason and it’s something they’ll need to address sooner rather than later.
Next: 3. An NL East Title and More