Q: Let's start with the most important question: Does this make the Nationals better?
A: Without a doubt. Papelbon is a All-Star level closer with little in his stats to indicate that he won't continue being so for the next couple years. Over the past three years he has a WHIP of 1.008, a BB/9 of 1.8, and a K/9 of 8.6. He's only given up 11 HRs in 168 innings of work. His numbers have been stable over that time. As a closer or a set-up man he would provide an instant "no thought required" option for getting through an inning regardless of the batters coming up.
Q: Did the Nats really need him though? Aren't relievers fungible?
A: OK yes relievers are fairly easy to replace. Given a whole year most teams will be able to find one or two solid relievers that they may not have been sure of before. But note the conditions on that sentence; "Given the whole year" and "most teams". The Nats had not been able to rely on their middle relievers over 100 games. Whether it's because of the talent on hand, Matt Williams' feel for how to use the talent, or some combination of the two, the Nats have to deal with that reality. Is it likely that something would work out in the last 40% of the season? Yes. It's it certain? No. Right now the Nats need certainty if they want to hold off the Mets and feel confident about the bullpen if they make the playoffs.
Q : Was what the Nats gave up too much? Is Nick Pivetta going to be a star?
A: Unlikely. He was of mild importance in the Nats organization and barely on the radar for the league. Tall, but not gangly, big, but not heavy, the 22 year old Nick is seen as having the ideal frame for a pitcher but that doesn't take you very far. He's a hard, but not overpowering, thrower whose control has been an issue. He has been able to work around that in the low minors but his limited time in AA has been far less successful. His development as a starter will likely be determined by his ability to develop a couple other pitches over the next couple of years. Otherwise he'll likely be converted into a relief pitcher focusing on the plus fastball.
Q : Why would the Phillies give up Papelbon for that?
Well, for one, they wanted to get out from under Papelbon's contract, for which they'd have to pay him 13 mill next year to close for a going nowhere team. But that's only half of it. The other half is why didn't other teams offer the Phillies more? The answer is it's the world we live in now. Prospects are (too?) highly coveted by almost every team because what matters most today is not performance on the field but flexibility off. What GMs and presidents want is a stable of usable players they are able to pay relative peanuts to for 5 years or so. This makes it easier to add payroll when necessary and avoids the situation of having a loser with a high payroll that can often cost them their jobs.
Personally, I tend to believe this attitude lets the owners, rich men who purchased expensive toys that gain ridiculous value over time, off the hook on putting money back into the team. I also think, as I've made note of recently, that it fosters an almost "anti-sports" attitude in sports. Winning should be paramount in sports, not budgetting. However both the owners inside the sport, and the statistically minded outside, for who winning with a budget gives them a problem to solve, agree on this approach, making it unlikely to change anytime soon. Anyway, off my soapbox. Good for the Nats - didn't give up much.
Q : OK, Grandpa. Let me wake up now and ask you - so how about that money? Doesn't this prove that the Lerners are in it to win it?
A: Far from it. The Phillies are kicking in 4.5 million this year. Papelbon is owed 4.9 million for the remainder of the season. Meaning the Lerners are adding only an additional 400K to the Nats current payroll. That's an increase of less than half a percent. As for the 11 million owed for 2016 in the future (8 million in 2016 and 3 million deferred to 2017) we'll have to see what the payroll is like next season before deciding.
Q: The Lerners really have a problem adding money in season don't they?
A : Yep. And I have to imagine it does hamper Rizzo's ability to "damage control" the team. But he's a very good GM so he has been able to work around it so far. Of course in three seasons the Nats have missed the playoffs once and have won 0 playoff series, and they are fighting for the playoffs right now, so you have to wonder if a more generous budget would allow Rizzo to produce better results.
Q: So what happens to Storen now? He doesn't seem happy. He's in the 8th now right?
A: Storen does indeed become the 8th inning guy now and I wouldn't be happy either. When he lost his closer role to start 2013 one could at least see the reasoning behind it. He was relatively new to the role and he blew the last playoff game (though Davey didn't help him out). The owners saw an opportunity to bring in a proven, veteran closer and did so. It was sketchy logic but it was there. Now Storen, with another 70+ games finished behind him and arguably pitching the best in his career (and possibly the best in the league), is forced to move because a whiny, but talented, closer on another team refuses to pitch in set-up. It shows a complete lack of faith and support in Drew Storen the player.
For the Nats it doesn't matter, Papelbon to Storen or Storen to Papelbon, the last innings should be hell on opponents. The question remains though will it matter to Storen (or if he ends up in the 8th before all is said and done, to Papelbon) and will that effect their performance.
Q: They could trade one right? They don't need two closers.
A: Then what was the point? You brought in Papelbon to address an issue. Trading one would only recreate the same problems the Nats were facing before the trade. No, Storen isn't going anywhere in 2015, nor should he.
Now in the off-season you can see one of these guys being shipped out. They will owe a lot of money to these two relievers next year. Money was a good part of the reason Clippard was traded last year. But again, the pen question hangs over that as well. If they do deal Papelbon or Storen aren't they just starting 2016 in the same position they started 2015, with a pen with one reliable arm and a bunch of question marks? Isn't there something about learning from history? That's an offseason question though.
Q: Anything else happening? The Nats still have a lot of trade pieces left, I imagine. Can we get help for the bench?
A : Possibly. The Nats don't need much, in theory, when healthy. With Taylor, Espinosa and Robinson manning the bench it will have speed, some pop, IF and OF defense, and a left-handed bat. To be a completist though, Taylor and Espinosa are swing and miss types so the Nats could use a contact bat on the bench, preferably left-handed. Right now with Span's health being a concern an OF makes more sense than an IF. That's all I can think of. I'm sure Rizzo is looking for whatever bargains he can find.
Q: So the Nats are set? Full speed ahead?
A : Well.... look. The Nats have had problems all year. It's easy to dismiss them as related to being forced to use the bench, but you look at what happened and you'll see that Werth, Rendon, Zimm, Strasburg, they were all playing poorly at various points in the year. They were part of the problem. IF it was injury based and IF they are completely healthy, then yes full speed ahead. But it's far more likely that some of that with Werth and Zimm (and maybe Stras) was related to aging. And it's far more likely that rather than 100% they are at some percentage of health less than that, a percentage that let's them play but does not let them max out their performance. The lower that performance is, the more the rest of the season remains a dogfight with the Mets.
Do I like the Nats better than the Mets? Yep. I don't see how you couldn't right now. Whether that holds up will depend on the injury returnees performances, but just going with modest performances for those guys, I'd still have the Nats with an edge. Can the Mets be better than the Nats with the right pick-up? Maybe. It have to be a pretty big pick-up though. Do I feel confident that the Nats will hold onto first? I guess I'd say no, I'm not "confident". I'd put my money on the Nats. You wouldn't even have to force me to do it, but I wouldn't feel like it was a sure thing.