1/18/15, "LOVERRO: Keeping Tyler Clippard a luxury the Nationals couldn’t afford,
" Washington Times, Thom Loverro
"Never fall in love with a relief
pitcher — unless his name is Mariano Rivera.
Who knows? Maybe Tyler Clippard
will wind up being the Mariano Rivera of set up men coming out of the
bullpen. But $9 million for an eighth-inning pitcher
is a luxury the Washington
Nationals can’t afford, so the popular reliever was traded last week to the Oakland Athletics for infielder Yunel Escobar
, as Washington
general manager Mike Rizzo
continues to battle the payroll beast.
Lerner family is going to keep this team’s payroll in the $140 million
neighborhood — an upscale, if not luxury, neighborhood.
In order to do that, you can’t be paying the setup
reliever $9 million, what Clippard
is seeking in arbitration, and not when you have two ace starting
pitchers and a three-time Silver Slugging shortstop facing free agency
after the 2015 season — and hope to keep any of them.
Remember, yesterday’s failed starting pitching prospect is tomorrow’s ace reliever. See Clippard
Clippard had been a starter — a bad one — in the New York Yankees system
since he was drafted in 2003. By the time 2007 came around, he was an afterthought, traded to Washington
for relief pitcher Jonathan Albaledejo. And it wasn’t until two years
later, after a conversation with Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty,
that Clippard moved to the bullpen — and a Nats star was born.
fall in love with relief pitchers because, besides the starting
pitcher’s walk from the bullpen to the dugout before the game after
warming up, relievers are the only players on the team that make a grand
entrance — and often in dramatic conditions. No one made a grander
entrance than Clippard
with his goggles and long-legged show horse strut
. He connected with a
fan base still learning how to fall in love with a baseball team.
But remember, so did Chad Cordero. So did Joey Eischen. Relievers are often shooting stars — here and gone. Others come along.
It’s up to Rizzo
to find one. Maybe he already did — another afterthought.
Blake Treinen came to Washington
as a supporting cast player in the Michael Morse three-way trade to Seattle
that brought Nationals pitching prospect A.J. Cole back to Washington
from Oakland, along with reliever Ian Krol. Treinen worked both as a starter and reliever last season, back and forth between Washington
and Triple-A Syracuse, but when Rizzo
saw Treinen in spring training last year, he knew he had something special.
He posted good numbers last year when used as a spot starter in Washington
— a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings. But he was lights out coming out of the bullpen, with a 1.23 ERA in eight relief appearances. Will he be Tyler Clippard
? That’s a high standard. Rizzo
told reporters last week after the deal was made that Clippard
“maybe the best eighth-inning setup man in the history of the game.”
the Washington Nationals can’t afford to have the best setup man in the
history of the game. Actually, they could easily afford it, but
chooses not to, so it’s up to Rizzo
to project forward to insure payroll flexibility
— after talent, the two most important words for any Major League Baseball franchise seeking long-term success.
to Oakland, just as it brought Escobar
. The infielder is here because the future of the Nationals infield up the middle is up in the air. There is no obvious second base
choice right now, and shortstop Ian Desmond is on the trading block,
going into the final year of his contract, with the two sides reportedly
not even close to make a long term deal.
reportedly offered Desmond a $90 million contract extension last
season, which he turned down. They don’t appear close to agreeing to any
sort of lengthy contract extension, and Desmond has been the subject of
numerous trade talks.
has three such commodities — Desmond and starting pitchers Jordan
Zimmermann and Doug Fister. One or two of them will likely be playing
someplace else next year. Rizzo
has to juggle those future payrolls. Escobar
helps him do that — but only if he performs above what he did last year
in Tampa Bay. He is a career .276 hitter with an above-average glove.
He hit .258 with the Rays last season, finishing with 18 doubles, seven
home runs and 39 RBI in 137 games. His .324 on-base percentage and .340
slugging percentage were each below his career averages of .347 and
“We got ourselves a really good everyday
baseball player that can play shortstop on a regular basis, has done it
on a championship-caliber club,” Rizzo
told reporters. “And this year, [he] fulfills us as an upgrade at second base. We have protection and depth
in the infield beyond 2015, so we feel that we’ve checked off a lot of the boxes that we try to check off during.”
and depth in the infield beyond 2015. It may be maddening for Nationals
to lose a favorite now to hedge future bets. But after waiting 33
years for Major League Baseball to return to Washington
, a plan for future success should make everyone feel good."
• "Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com."