Between mingling with fans, signing autographs and participating in game shows during Winterfest, Nationals players were shuffled through the bowels of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for media sessions. A common question posed to most was how the team deals with the fallout from Jonathan Papelbon’s dugout brawl with Bryce Harper as the Nationals proceed into 2016.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has reportedly pursued other closers while attempting to deal Papelbon with no success. In any event, veteran players like Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa feel the Nationals can easily move past the distraction and embarrassment.
Werth: “I think what people don’t see is all the stuff that goes on behind close doors. In that instance, I think that the cameras were on and everybody got to see it so that’s kind of why it’s a bigger deal. Those things happen. People have disagreements and arguments. We’re a big group of men that have pretty much been by each other’s sides for seven months. There are going to be some disagreements. Fights happen. Even brothers fight. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as everybody thinks it is. I think it will be fine. The bottom line is that we’ve got games to win. Petty little fights, stuff like that, they happen. But they don’t last real long in our minds. For fans and and the media, that’s all they got, so that’s all they run. But to us, I think that was over not long after it happened.”
Espinosa: “If you took your 24 other best friends and put them in a clubhouse, you guys would fight each other. If you guy had siblings growing up, you love your siblings to death, but you guys fought. It happens. It’s part of it. The unfortunate part of that is that it happened in front of the cameras. To me, that doesn’t bother me. It’s part of it. It’s like if you work a regular job, you don’t get along with every single person you work with. That doesn’t mean that you don’t work together.
“You’re gonna have disagreements. Even the guys that you love, you’re gonna have disagreements with. It doesn’t bother me at all. You got the highest level of baseball player with huge egos throughout baseball. And we have guys that have separate opinions. Now clash those together, what are you gonna get? You’re gonna get arguments. You’re gonna get fights. We’re grown men. It happens. I’m not worried. It actually doesn’t bother me at all.”
Zimmerman: “I think it would have been weird if none of that happened. We should have been upset and frustrated. We were in first place ... sometime in July, I think, and obviously didn’t play well. We had a chance to make the playoffs and I don’t want to say let it slip through your fingers - because the Mets played great baseball and I don’t want to take anything away from them - but you realize how hard it is to get to the playoffs and you don’t get many chances to do that.
“Not that I would say that I would condone some of the stuff that happened, obviously, but I think it would have been weird if everyone was in a good mood and happy and high-fiving each other. It’s just one of those things where all of us were frustrated and we were trying as hard as we could to win and we weren’t winning. A lot of us were going through battling through injuries. There’s a lot of variables going on and people get upset. I think that kind of shows you what kind of team we have. I don’t think we need to fight each other all the time - which sometimes that happens - but I didn’t have a problem with anything that happened.”
Speaking at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, new manager Dusty Baker said “Right now, Papelbon is my closer.” Oh, man, I think we’ve heard that before. We’ll see how long that lasts.
By the way, Papelbon was one of the few Nationals players under contract not at Winterfest. Rizzo said Papelbon had already booked a trip out of the country before the Winterfest dates were established.