Why the Nationals Need To Move Tyler Clippard
June 17, 2011 in Uncategorized
Despite their recent hot streak, the Nationals look to be surefire sellers between now and July 31st. In that vein there has been a lot of discussion of who might be available, and while the usual suspects (Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey) are generally accepted, one name that hasn't gotten a lot of attention is RP Tyler Clippard.
Now it is understandable why Clippard gets overlooked, as he is under team control for 4 1/2 seasons after this and has been one of the best late inning relievers in the league. Despite that dealing Clippard, is in the Nationals best interest long term. For as good as Clippard is, at the end of the day he is just one piece of a strong bullpen. And while bullpen's are important, by in large they are overvalued by the industry, in particular by contenders (which makes some sense). Last year the Nats were able to pry top catching prospect Wilson Ramos from the Twins, for a year and a half of Matt Capps. Now Capps is a good reliever, but at the end of the day Clippard is cheaper, under control for longer and in fact a better reliever than Capps.
Now I realize the counter-argument among Nats fans is to keep him, for when they are contending. Which could be as soon as next year, depending on how Stephen Strasburg comes back, and how quickly top prospects Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon join the lineup, but a more realistic target is 2013. And while they could still have Clippard under control for a couple more years, getting that prospect return will likely have a far bigger impact than one reliever. Is there a risk? Of course there is, but there would be one with Clippard as well. Relievers are extremely volatile and the Nationals could end up not being able to move him due to performance or injury. Injury derailed the career of the Nats former bullpen ace Chad Cordero, a player that they decided to hold on to, instead of moving for prospects when he was at an All-star level. The Royals have had to also deal with their top bullpen arm losing his value, as they decided not to deal Joakim Soria last season, when his value was at it's highest. Now if they tried to move him, they'd be lucky to get 50 cents on the dollar.
Moving Clippard now makes sense for the Nationals because they can basically ask for a king's ransom. On talent alone Clippard would be among the top 5 relievers available at the deadline, but when you factor in cost, and years of control, he quickly moves to the top of the list. And given that level of value, I see the Nationals being able to land at least 3 quality young players in return, with 2 of them at a value level similar to Wilson Ramos.
While there could be any number of suitors, with the Yankees, Rangers, Cardinals all likely options, I think the best fit might be the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa's bullpen has been just okay so far this season, and needs to get stronger for Tampa to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Long term their outlook is even worse, as a number of their best options are free agents after this year or next. Given Tampa's limited payroll they aren't able to spend too much on the free agent market, and that includes resigning some of their own guys. While Tampa could stick to their strategy of converting a bunch of starting pitchers, it's an idea that could take time. Instead they could trade for someone who has already made the transition and is quite effective. Clippard would give the Rays exactly what they need. He is a bullpen workhorse, as evidenced by his 40+ innings pitched already. He's the type of guy who can give 5-6 outs, and is a strike thrower, and among the top 10 in K's per 9 innings. Clippard has also left a ridiculous 97.9% of runners stranded, which means even if he does make a mistake and give up a walk or a hit, he doesn't implode like some relievers. It might cost Tampa a couple quality prospects, but it could be well worth it for them.