Jonathan Papelbon’s odd relationship with the Washington Nationals has come to an end. The Nats released Papelbon and recalled right-hander Reynaldo Lopez from AAA for a start against Atlanta. After the Nationals traded for Pirates closer Mark Melancon, Papelbon was relegated to a sort of specialist role. In his three appearances before the trade for Melancon, Papelbon allowed eight runs on seven hits, essentially sealing is fate. Here are his 2016 numbers:
All is not lost, however. Papelbon had a solid start to the season in the 29 games he pitched prior to the All Star break, with a 2.83 ERA and a 3.00 FIP. With that in mind, there are teams who may be interested:
Cardinals – As their team’s disabled list increases by the day, the Cardinals bullpen has been successful at times but inconsistent and downright bad at others. With closer Trevor Rosenthal on the DL alongside long reliever (and spot starter) Tyler Lyons, along with the inconsistency of Jonathan Broxton (4.53 ERA), the Cardinals might find a spot in the pen for Papelbon.
Cubs – Pedro Strop is out for at least four weeks, maybe six, bringing that timetable right up to the end of the regular season. Joe Smith has not been good since he was traded to Chicago, giving up a grand slam on Saturday that put the game out of reach. Hector Rondon is dealing with a sore tricep and the Cubs are "still looking for additions" in the form of a "bullpen guy." Could Jonathan Papelbon be that guy? Maybe. Theo Epstein is familiar with Papelbon from his time as the GM for the Red Sox. Papelbon also has a World Series ring, and it's experience that may get the Cubs calling.
Pirates – They are still contending, only a game-and-a-half out of the second NL wild card spot, but don't have an overwhelming need for a closer. Neftali Feliz is doing a solid job as the eighth-inning guy and they pair him with Tony Watson, who has himself done a solid job in the ninth. In the two weeks since Melancon was traded to the Nationals, Watson has notched five saves and a win. However, he has performed well in the eighth inning where he is third in the NL in holds. Bringing in an established veteran like Jonathan Papelbon, someone with post season experience, could solidify the bullpen and put Watson back into the role of setup man. While the fierce need isn't there, he is a veteran at bargain price so the Pirates may be a team in the mix.
Rangers – The team’s bullpen has been taxed recently, with a 4.78 ERA on the season, and their starters average only 5.74 innings per game. They carry just seven relievers right now. However, Papelbon may not have a firm fit in their bullpen, as Sam Dyson has done a solid job as closer this season. They also traded for the Brewers’ Jeremy Jeffress, who has experience in the eighth inning and as a closer. The Rangers need a pitcher who can throw multiple innings in an outing, but the disparity between Papelbon’s innings pitched and games hasn’t been +4 since 2006. Papelbon likely will not fit into the Rangers’ pen since he’s primarily a one-inning pitcher, but if they want an experienced reliever they could be a dark horse team.
Red Sox – With a bullpen treading in rough water at the moment, why not go with a known quantity? Craig Kimbrel recently sat out with knee soreness (but is no longer day-to-day), and in five games for Boston, Fernando Abad is 0–2 with only 3.2 innings pitched. Papelbon’s ERA is slightly better than Koji Uehara’s, and in the past ten games Junichi Tazawa’s ERA has jumped from 3.16 to 3.89, as he allowed six earned runs over that stretch. The Red Sox are tied for the fifth-most relief losses in baseball (20). Papelbon has the potential to improve his season in a familiar environment and is only a marginal risk for the organization.
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Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter at @highstarksunday.