4) With Bulk of the Work Done, Some Questions Remain
While the Nationals have already addressed nearly every issue that followed them into the offseason, some questions remain for the team as we get closer to Spring Training.
For starters, it’s still not entirely clear what the team will do with Jonathan Papelbon. Many expected the Nationals to trade the beleaguered closer this offseason, but given the $11 million he is owed next season, his extensive no-trade list and the fact that he choked the NL MVP to end his 2014 campaign, the veteran closer might be all but impossible to trade.
Still, the Nationals are facing a P.R. nightmare with the prospect of Papelbon being the closer in 2015. Papelbon lost the respect of his fans and, perhaps, his teammates, when he let the dugout argument with Harper escalate intoone of the the most embarrassing moments in team history. If Papelbon pitches the ninth inning at Nationals Park, it’s quite likely that he’ll get a not-so-warm welcome from the fans — especially early in the season.
With the distractions and controversies of 2015 still fresh in everybody’s mind, is a player like Papelbon really what the Nationals want and need in 2016? Probably not.
On the flip side, the Nationals might not have any other options. Barring a surprise trade for someone like the Yankees’ Andrew Miller, Papelbon is likely going to be closer on Opening Day, regardless of how the fans (or the team) feel about it. Plus, Papelbon has been an elite closer for most of his career — it’ll be a lot easier for the fans to get behind him once he shows he can get the job done in the ninth inning.
Other than the Papelbon question, which will hang over the team until Opening Day and probably beyond, the Nationals probably won’t make any more major moves this offseason. They could add a starter, but that’s unlikely given their already strong rotation and minor league depth. They could bring in another bat, but the acquisitions of Murphy and Revere already addressed the lineup’s most glaring weaknesses.
Three months into the offseason, it looks like Rizzo finally has his team for next season. Now it’s time to see if the roster he built has what it takes to win in 2016.