Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper doesn't want to deal with any drama next year. The 23-year-old reportedly reached out to veteran reliever Jonathan Papelbon during the offseason in order to ensure the two could function as teammates, according to Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.
The two now infamously went after each other during a late September game. After Harper failed to run out a routine pop up, Papelbon confronted him in the dugout. Harper didn't relent, reportedly mouthing "let's go." That was enough for Papelbon, who lunged at Harper and, at one point, had his hand on Harper's throat. The two were separated by teammates.
The incident marked the lowest point of the season for the organization. Manager Matt Williams looked foolish after allowing Papelbon to remain in the game. He later admitted he didn't know the extent of the fight, even though he was standing just a few feet away.
After some deliberation, Harper did not play the next day as a form of punishment. Papelbon was essentially suspended for the rest of the season. It was unclear whether the two players had really interacted following the fight.
That's no longer the case. After Harper reached out, it appears the hatchet has been buried.
“Papelbon and Harper are fine together,” one person inside the Nationals said, referring to Harper’s phone call. “Harp just wants to win. All he cares about is that we have a 45-save relief pitcher who’s going to help us.”
The move shows incredible maturity from Harper. This comes just a day after a columnist suggested Harper would have to learn "how to be a man" if the Nationals hope to improve next season.
It will take some time for us to truly know whether Harper's attempts at reconciling their relationship will stick. It's one thing to calmly talk out issues during the offseason, and it's another to have to see each other face to face during stressful game situations. It will be interesting to see if the two remain friendly when the club is dealt a tough loss, or if they get off to slow start. Papelbon is known to be fairly irritable, while Harper has a big personality. The worst of their spat is likely in the past, but there are scenarios where to two could easily rekindle their old feelings.
In the end, that may not even be a concern. It's thought that Papelbon will be on the trade market during the offseason. And while it might be tough to sell a 34-year-old reliever who makes $11 million and just choked a guy, teams will take chances on guys who produce on the field. Based on all the negatives surrounding Papelbon at the moment, the Nationals would likely have to sell him for pennies on the dollar.
Harper's gesture ensures things will be fine in case that doesn't happen. Perhaps teams will find Papelbon to be too toxic for their clubhouse following his antics last year. If that's the case, and Papelbon has to return to Washington, at least the two know they can coexist with each other.
If the Nationals are going to return to relevance next season, they'll have to exorcise the demons of 2015. Erasing the memory of the Harper/Papelbon choke fight will go a long way as far as that's concern. Kudos to Harper for having the maturity to reach out and make sure his relationship with Papelbon doesn't become a huge story next spring.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
- - - - - - -