There is No “I” in “Team,” Unless You are a Reliever for the Nationals

When, fifteen  games into the 2015 season, Jonathan Papelbon expressed his desire to be traded to a contending team, many people attributed his statements to his fiercely competitive nature.   See, this desire to win trumps any individual achievements Papelbon seeks for himself.   That is why when reporters asked him about his partial no-trade clause, Papelbon indicated that it would not be an issue provided he is traded to a team with a chance to win the World Series.

Yesterday, Papelbon got his wish.  The Washington Nationals, a team leading the National League East by two games at the time, agreed to send a minor league pitcher to the Philadelphia Phillies for Papelbon’s services.   Papelbon could combine with All-Star closer Drew Storen to form a formidable late-inning tandem during the final stretch of the season and, hopefully, deep into the playoffs.

Despite his past assurances, however, Papelbon did not waive his no-trade clause until the Nationals guaranteed that he would be the team’s closer.

Wait, what?

Papelbon, the fierce competitor who only wanted an opportunity to play for a contender, would have blocked a deal to a first place team if the Nationals had intended to use him in the eighth inning instead of the ninth?  Last time I checked, a team needs to have its pitchers perform well in both innings to win.  If all Papelbon wanted was a chance to win, how could he justify refusing to waive his no-trade clause?

Well, perhaps Papelbon simply felt that the team had the best chance at winning if he was serving as closer?  Or, perhaps because Storen had made 43 appearances in the seventh and eighth innings last season, Papelbon felt that Storen was better-suited for such a role?


In an interview today, Papelbon confirmed that his motivation for wanting to remain in the closer’s role was purely a selfish one:  He wants to break Mariano Rivera‘s all-time saves record.  As Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk pointed out, Papelbon would have to average about thirty saves per season for the next ten years to come close to breaking Rivera’s mark.  Given the already long odds, Papelbon apparently could not afford to sacrifice accumulating two months of saves, even if it meant being on a winning team.

At least Drew Storen, talking to, acknowledged that the addition of Papelbon, a veteran and battle-tested reliever, increased the team’s chances of winning:

All I’m going to say is that I’m aware of the move, and I’ve talked to [Nationals General Manager] Mike [Rizzo]about it and talked to my agent and we’ve had some ongoing discussions, and until those have progressed, I’m going to leave it at that and no comment for now.  As the situation goes, I’ll keep you guys posted.

Uh, guess not.

Quite the selfless bullpen Mike Rizzo has built here.

When discussing the primary reason for acquiring Papelbon, Rizzo explained:  “This guy wants to win.”

Yes, Papelbon does; so long as he records the final out of each win.


Featured image is “Jonathan Papelbon on June 17, 2012” by james_in_to on Flickr.