The big news out of Washington at the trade deadline was that the Nationals opted against shipping Bryce Harper out of town for the final two months of his contract. The small news was that they traded reliever Brandon Kintzler—a 33-year-old with a 15-16 record over parts of nine seasons—to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a low-ceiling pitcher in Single-A.
More interesting than the trade itself is why it was made.
According to the Washington Post, Kintzler became a persona non grata around Nationals Park after speaking to the media about what came to be described as a “dysfunctional” Washington clubhouse. (What he actually said, or even whether he even said it, is less important than the team’s feelings about the situation.)
From Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
“The clubhouse is a mess,” said one source, whose account was corroborated by three others who spoke to Yahoo Sports on the condition of anonymity out of fear the organization would punish them for speaking publicly. While the sources pinpointed a number of causes for the internal acrimony, they agreed that it was not purely a function of the Nationals’ underachievement but something that has festered throughout the season.
Never mind that at least four people—the source and three corroborators—spoke to Passan. Kintzler seems to have been fingered as the fall guy.
The internal reaction to this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. A sign that has hung in many big league clubhouses over the years reads: “What you see here, what you do here, what you say here, let it stay here.” Excommunicating those who choose to ignore it is nothing new.
“Players who are foolish enough to discuss what went on in a closed clubhouse meeting, or reveal that two players almost killed each other after the game, often turn up on other teams the next year,” wrote former pitcher and coach Tom House in his 1989 book, The Jock’s Itch. “That kind of behavior just isn’t acceptable. You must be loyal to your teammates, even though you may hate every last one of them.”
The notion is pervasive. For just one example, in 2011, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who had led the franchise to its first championship since 1917, looked on as his son spilled a variety of clubhouse secrets via Twitter. Guillen didn’t make it through the ensuing season, and apart from an aborted run in Miami in 2012, hasn’t managed since.
“Everybody wants to know what the team meeting was about,” said Dusty Baker. “Well, that’s the team meeting. If you are on the team, we’ll tell you. It’s not being anti-press, it’s not being secretive, it’s just how it is.”
Washington’s party line is that the team has a stout back end of the bullpen even without Kintzler, and wants to give a shot to rookie Wander Suero. Maybe this is the case. Then again, GM Mike Rizzo also said this:
In semi-related news, Washington also designated reliever Shawn Kelly for assignment after his sub-Little League reaction to giving up a homer in a blowout win.
The connective tissue between these moves, other than that both players pitched for the Nationals, was that they were both seen as expendable. Nats closer Shawn Doolilttle may be the least likely guy in the league to throw his glove in such a manner, but if he did, or if he’d leaked things to the press, you’d better believe that the team would give him every opportunity to make things right.
Kintzler and Kelley are not on that level. And when it comes time to shake things up on an underperforming roster, they’re just the type of players who can be easily thrown into the line of fire.
2 thoughts on “Addition By Subtraction: Nationals Thin Out Bullpen Roster For Non-Baseball Reasons”
Do you think Kelley might have been forgiven had it been a closer game? Like, if the Nats were up 4-2 and the home run tied it? I feel like the Mets should be more offended by that than the Nats, since he acted like a 2-run homer even mattered when it took them from having a 23 run lead to a 21 run lead.
And I wonder, had the Nats not DFA’ed him as an obvious response, might the Mets have drilled someone on Wednesday?
I’m actually somewhat surprised he wasn’t ejected for it. Can’t throwing equipment be an ejectable offense in some cases? Especially since he had just had a fairly heated discussion with two of the umpires, it wouldn’t have been hard for them to to make that connection.
It didn’t help that it was a blowout, but that kind of display is bush league regardless of the score. Is it the difference between being DFA’d and reprimanded in some other way? Maybe. But guys like Kelley aren’t usually given that kind of leeway.
Interesting thought about the Mets drilling someone in response. Impossible to know whether they would have, of course, but there’s no question that internal resolution of that type of issue goes a long way toward mollifying an opponent, as illustrated in The Baseball Codes via stories about Roger Cedeno and Torri Hunter.
As for ejection, absolutely it could have happened. Given that Kelley wasn’t showing up the umpire, though, it didn’t even occur to me that his actions would have drawn that kind of notice. At that point in that kind of game, everybody — umpires included — primarily just wants to go home. Tossing pitchers for actions that have nothing to do with you do little to help that cause.