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Papelbon struggles to fit in since leaving Red Sox

Jonathan Papelbon’s unapologetically brash demeanor has not served him well with the Nationals.Greg Fiume/Getty Images/Getty

Makeup evaluations and clubhouse fits are tricky things to evaluate.

A player who represented an asset in one place quickly can become a square peg in a round hole in another. Alternately, there are plenty of stories of the remaking of a player’s image, someone who carries a suspect reputation in one environment proving a leader in another. And then, of course, there are times when players go from bad eggs in one place to rotten eggs in another.

Jonathan Papelbon’s unapologetically brash demeanor has been all of these things over the course of a wildly successful big league career that is now just over 10 years old. With the Red Sox, he was outspoken in a way that had an edge and could produce the whiff of controversy, but he was in an environment where players, managers, coaches and front office members understood him.


At the end of his Red Sox tenure in 2011, many described him as, in his own way, a team leader in the bullpen, in no small part because of his incredible competitive fire and his tireless work to remain on the mound.

Of course, he spent all of those years in Boston on contenders – something he thought he was signing up to do in Philadelphia from 2012-15. Instead, the Phillies saw their roster collapse, subjecting Papelbon to a lengthy rebuild with which he wasn’t comfortable.

The city of brotherly love ultimately felt little affection for a pitcher who became the all-time franchise leader in saves in advance of the trade that sent him to the Nationals at this year’s trade deadline.

Now in Washington, a Nationals team that entered the year as a World Series favorite is seeing its year end in misery. On Sunday, Papelbon got into a dugout altercation with face-of-the-franchise Bryce Harper, chastising a player who is renowned for his constant red-line approach for not sprinting to first on a pop-up. On camera, Papelbon had his hands on Harper’s neck, an ugly scene forcing a kind of reckoning for the Nationals’ season, as Thomas Boswell writes in the Washington Post.


Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com writes that the Nationals will have to trade or release Papelbon, who is owed $11 million next year – something that will result in another round of questions about whether Papelbon will be a clubhouse catastrophe or whether, with the right environment, he can become a fit at a time when his value has never been lower.

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.