CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester is willing to admit that free-agent reliever Jonathan Papelbon is “crazy,” as a lot of fans assume, but Lester stopped short of calling Papelbon anything but a good teammate.
“He is crazy,” Lester said with a smile on Sunday. “But he’s no crazier than the rest of us. He just gets a bad rap for what happened in the dugout. Knowing Papelbon, I’ve always had good things to say about him as a teammate, how he respects the game and how he goes about his business.”
The topic came up because for the second year in a row, the Cubs might have interest in Papelbon, after he was released by the Washington Nationals over the weekend. In fact, some around baseball said they would be surprised if the Cubs didn’t bring him in for a look, especially after back-to-back late-inning losses to the St. Louis Cardinals, both of which went south with righty relievers on the mound.
“People are quick to jump to the conclusions based on one event,” Lester continued regarding Papelbon. “I think he’s a great teammate. Like I said, I don’t think he’s any crazier that the rest of us. I think he still has a lot to give.”
The “event” Lester is referring to involved eventual NL MVP Bryce Harper and Papelbon, after he was acquired by the Nationals last season. Papelbon and Harper got into a physical altercation after Harper -- in Papelbon’s estimation -- failed to run hard to first base. It nearly destroyed the pitcher’s reputation and career, but Lester insists he’s a good guy. The two have known each other for years, going back to their days in Boston.
“I don’t have anything but good things to say about him as a clubhouse presence, a clubhouse personality, a closer, a pitcher, a teammate -- all the above,” Lester said. “I respect the way he goes about things. One thing you always know is he’ll always take the ball, and he’ll always have your back. As a teammate, that’s all you can ask for.”
Whether the righty Papelbon can be effective and whether the Cubs need him is another story. On the same day he was granted his release, the Cubs blew a game, as righties Carl Edwards Jr. and Joe Smith struggled. Then on Sunday, it was Hector Rondon’s turn to give up the lead. A case can be made that the Cubs could use a righty to get some outs -- at least for the time being.
Papelbon had an 11.37 ERA in eight games after the All-Star break, but he has been very effective when used after some rest. With two days between his appearances, hitters are 1-for-13 against him this season. Less than two days' rest, and he has been rocked. If the Cubs use him correctly -- and mostly against righties -- there might be something to bringing him in.
Lester says don’t worry about the Cubs' clubhouse. It'll be just fine.
“Aroldis Chapman came in fine,” Lester said. "Mike Montgomery came in fine. People are quick to judge based on one event. They think all he does is fight his teammates.
"If he was in this clubhouse, he would be very welcomed. Guys would be excited. He would have something to bring to us both on and off the field. It’s not a worry by any means.”