IN NOVEMBER 2011, the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million free-agent contract. It was (and remains) the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher in baseball history.
Yesterday, Papelbon came back to Citizens Bank Park for the first time since he was traded to Washington in late July. Even though his current, generous salary is still being paid by the Phillies, Papelbon questioned his former team's desire to win.
"I don't know if I got a bad rap here or whatever, but I can promise you I was, by far, [from being] the bad guy on this team," Papelbon said. "I was one of the few that wanted to actually win, and I was one of the few that competed and posted up every day."
One of the few who actually wanted to win? That's a pretty strong statement, Johnny.
"I say it as a team," Papelbon said, in his first of several failed attempts to clarify. "If you don't have a team atmosphere that's put together that coincides with winning, you know?"
In his last attempt to explain himself, before the nine-minute interview was cut off by a Nationals media relations representative, Papelbon said you could blame everyone at Citizens Bank Park. Even the bat boy.
"I think the blame goes all the way from the front office all the way down to the bat boy," Papelbon said. "When you don't have an organization that wants to win, it's pretty evident, and they go out and publicly say, we're not going to win. So what more, you know what I mean?"
Papelbon joined the Phillies a month after the team won 102 games, when they were fresh off their fifth straight postseason appearance. After Papelbon came aboard, the Phillies failed to finish any season since with a winning record.
Not that it was Papelbon's fault. Hardly. He was 14-11 with a 2.31 ERA (lower than his 2.33 ERA in Boston) and racked up a franchise-record 123 saves and made two trips to the All-Star Game.
But Papelbon was a malcontent for most of his 3 1/2 seasons with the Phillies.
He wanted to be traded, and the feeling was mutual inside the Phillies' front office, as the disgruntled closer famously said he "didn't come here for this" during a losing streak in 2013, and infamously grabbed his crotch in the general direction of fans after blowing a save a year ago at Citizens Bank Park. He was suspended seven games for the latter.
Yesterday, he said that his former employer still has to do "a lot of things to become a good organization" and that he thinks it's "going to be a while" before that happens.
Four years ago, Papelbon signed with the Phillies hoping to add another championship ring or two to his collection. The fact that the team was never close to accomplishing that - and that the front office committed to a rebuild last winter - has left a bitter taste in Papelbon's played-out mouth.
"We just had too many non-regular guys in there, and, granted, we did get hurt, but we didn't have the personnel, the leadership, the A to Z to win," Papelbon said. "It was felt all throughout the clubhouse, and it was felt all throughout the stadium, I believe."
As a highly paid veteran, didn't he take it upon himself to provide that leadership?
"I tried to bring certain things to attention that would make us better and it just seemed like everything I brought to attention . . . to me, I was never accepted," Papelbon said. "They just kind of all let it fly by the wayside and never really paid attention to what I had to say."
Papelbon was happy to find freedom with the then-first-place Nationals on July 28. But in the seven weeks since joining Washington, the Nats broke bad, too: They are 9 1/2 games behind the Mets in the National League East with 19 games to play.
"I think, in this game, the only thing you can truly ask for is to be on a team where you're happy being on," Papelbon said. "And being in an environment where you have a chance or an opportunity to win. And neither one of those two were able to be done for me with the Phillies, and both of those are the reasons why I came to Washington."
Cesar Hernandez' seventh-inning collision at first base with Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo Sunday left him with with a dislocated left thumb and ligament damage, too. Hernandez will have surgery to repair his thumb tomorrow.
The Phillies say the approximate recovery time is three months.
"The prognosis is that he's going to be fine for next year," manager Pete Mackanin said.
Hernandez might not recover in time to get his usual offseason at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he will be ready for spring training.
Hernandez, 25, hit .272 with a .339 OBP and 19 stolen bases in 127 games this season. His .687 OPS ranks 11th in the NL among second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances.
Hernandez, who took over regular playing time when Chase Utley was sidelined in late June, was placed on the 60-day disabled list. The Phillies filled the roster void by adding veteran infielder Chase d'Arnaud from Triple A Lehigh Valley.