November 30, 2015

Washington Nationals Game 103 Review: Third-inning surge give Mets sweep of Nats

The Washington Nationals last woke up without sole possession of first place in the NL East on June 20, and will do so again on Monday morning, unlikely as that may have seemed even a week ago.

Their post-All Star break swoon hit a new low on Sunday night, as starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann gave up three home runs in the third inning and the New York Mets won 5-2 in a nationally televised game at Citi Field. The win moves the Mets into a tie for first place in the division and a desperately needed three-game sweep against Washington.

[Read more…]

Tyler Clippard Tweets Goodbye to Fans and Photo Gallery

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011. Notice the All-Star logo on cap and two stars on back of jersey. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)


Relief pitcher Tyler Clippard seemed as surprised as Washington Nationals fans on Wednesday evening when the trade with the Oakland Athletics was announced. Nats fans immediately shared their displeasure of the trade on social media as Clippard is a fan favorite.

Shortly after the trade last night, Tyler Clippard took to Twitter to thank the fans. He even posted the “Peaches” video by The Presidents of the United States to long-time fans, which was Clippard’s warm-up song prior to “Ready or Not” by the Fugees (which I think was one of the best warm-up songs ever!).

See other DSP opinion pieces regarding the trade.

I’ve literally taken thousands of photos of Clippard over the years. It took some practice to get Clipp’s full unique delivery, which I nicknamed “Windmill” since both of his arms move around. Here are a few photos to view and reminisce. Wishing Clippard the best of luck with his new team, but he will definitely be missed in DC.

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard pitched 8th inning and earned 10th hold against Baltimore Orioles, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard pitched 8th inning and earned 10th hold against Baltimore Orioles, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Clippard after his 32nd save - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Clippard after his 32nd save – Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard earned 30th save - Chicago Cubs v. Washington Nationals, 9/3/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard earned 30th save – Chicago Cubs v. Washington Nationals, 9/3/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Clippard #36 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Clippard #36 showing off new jerseys at unveiling, 11/10/2010. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Fear the Goggles - Tyler Clippard, 8/26/2010 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Fear the Goggles – Tyler Clippard, 8/26/2010 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching in Viera, Florida at spring training, 3/10/2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching in Viera, Florida at spring training, 3/10/2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard struggled in the 10th inning - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard struggled in the 10th inning – Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

OPINION: Escobar has tough task of making Nationals fans forget he was traded for Clippard

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Nationals traded two-time All-Star Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for much-traveled shortstop Yunel Escobar, the ninth time since he’s become general manager that Mike Rizzo has made a trade with his Oakland counterpart, Billy Beane. On paper, it’s the type of trade Major League general managers dream of making: trading an expensive, fungible asset — in this case, the most-used relief pitcher of the past four seasons — for an at-least average every day player, and saving money in the process.

But fans don’t root for teams on paper.

Escobar, 32, is the very definition of average big league shortstop. At least, he was up until last season. He owns a lifetime .276/.347/.381 slash line in eight seasons. He had been a positive WAR player every year of his career… up until last season, when he hit .258/.324/.340 with not even passable defense. In fact, he was one of the worst shortstops defensively in all of baseball.

Is that a blip? Is it signaling the beginning of the end for Escobar? We’ll have to wait and see. But considering his previous indefensible attitude problems — and the player he was traded for — Nats fans are going to have a hard time hoping for this guy to succeed.

Tyler Clippard was a fan-favorite. Actually, that’s stating it lightly. Acquired before the 2008 season for fellow reliever Jonathan Albaladejo (in what surely is Jim Bowden’s crowning achievement as Nats GM), Clippard arrived as a lightly regarded two-pitch starter with injury concerns. Soon, he would be sent to the bullpen, where his exploding fastball and damn-near unhittable changeup would wreak havoc on batters, first in the International League as a member of the Columbus Clippers and Syracuse Chiefs, then as a valuable member of the Nats pen.

Clippard went on to post All-Star seasons in 2011 and this past season, dominating on an almost nightly basis in his familiar eighth inning role, setting up for the likes of Matt Capps, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano.

Clippard, behind those wonderfully goofy goggles, was a rarity — as affable and approachable off the field as he was dominant on it. The press loved him for his smart, engaging insights after games and during batting practice. Fans loved him for being approachable at the ballpark, at fan events and on social media. He was, succinctly, the perfect guy to have on your team.

Now, that team is the Oakland A’s. At least, for now. It’s no secret A’s GM Billy Beane is rebuilding and rebranding his team, and a veteran soon-to-be free agent like Clippard probably won’t call the Oakland Coliseum home for very long. He’ll probably be shipped off at midseason for a couple of middling prospects as Beane goes about his latest great rebuild.

The bottom line here is, as it so often is, money.

Clippard, in his last year of arbitration before becoming a free agent at the end of the year, will command around $10 million this season after his arbitration hearing. Two-time All-Stars don’t come cheap. Escobar is under contract for two more years, with a team option for a third, and is due a very reasonable $13 million, provided his defensive numbers last season were an aberration and he continues to hit.

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

There is another factor. Escobar will probably be slated to play second base for the Nats, a job he hasn’t filled since his rookie year in ’07. But since he’s under contract for two more year at least, he provides the team with insurance should they trade, or simply allow to walk, current shortstop Ian Desmond — like Clippard, a free agent at season’s end. The Nats are particularly vulnerable at middle infield, and most of Rizzo’s moves this offseason have been to address that glaring weakness. He traded one of his most reliable players, in fact, to address it.

And what of the bullpen? Drew Storen was already slated to become the closer. Now, Matt Williams is going to have to come up with another eighth inning guy. Aaron Barrett? Craig Stammen? Blake Treinen? Heaven forbid, Heath Bell??? Everyone of them slots back one inning, regardless of who gets the eighth. Veteran lefty Matt Thornton becomes a stabilizing force, and Rizzo’s ninja-like acquisition of Thornton last season looks that much more important at this point.

This is a tough business, and this isn’t an easy pill for Nats fans to swallow — sending away a universally liked player in his prime for a fairly unlikable one that is probably already past his. It was probably a tough call for Mike Rizzo, too. On paper, this move looks reasonable. More than reasonable, actually. Clippard was going to get prohibitively expensive. Escobar is an at-least average affordable every day player. GM’s make that trade 99 times out of 100.

But fans don’t play on paper.

Clippard was here through the darkest years of the Washington Nationals — he saw damn near 400 losses in four seasons — and made it through to the other side. If the Nats go on to win it all in the next year or two, there will be fans that won’t find it as sweet since Clippard won’t be a part of it.

No, even if Escobar performs up to his career OBP, fans aren’t going to recover from this one. And if Escobar slides any more from last season’s performance, or the bullpen becomes a liability instead of a strength, he’s going to have a tough time of it here in DC.

And for Nats fans, this is — perhaps — just the beginning. With Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Denard Span and Doug Fister all slated for free agency following the 2015 season, this could just be the first goodbye of many to come in the very near future.

Tyler Clippard struggled in the 10th inning - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching to the Miami Marlins 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

OPINION: Tough saying goodbye to fan-favorite in offseason trade

No sooner had I finished saying that this was one of the hardest times in the baseball year than events have proven that out. In a trade with the Oakland A’s, the Nationals have acquired SS Yunel Escobar, and sent Tyler Clippard westward. This is the sort of late winter bombshell that you so rarely see, but can be a part of the landscape when it feels farthest from the warm summer days with green fields and a scorebook.

Trades like this one are absolutely the most difficult on the fan when they’re done in mid-winter. All we’ll hear about in the Natosphere for the next week or two — or heaven forfend, longer — is the aftermath of the this trade, and all it will be is hot air until April. Sure there’s time in Florida where we’ll see how Escobar handles the move to second or third base and how Clippard adapts to the Cactus league, but none of that is very meaningful.

No, to see the results of this trade we have to wait painful months while the winter drags on and while the talk-radio-and-columnist crowd chew this parcel of information over and over, slicing and dicing the statistical lines, the story lines from off the field, and all the intangible little things that we spend our winters working with.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve come to so dread the off-season, when live data stops being a possible outlet, and we’re left purely to the world of forecasts. I’ll come right out and say that there is no good possible way to forecast a baseball season — if there were, it’d be patented and marketed and sold to teams who would all use it religiously — we’re left with the awkward and clumsy moments where all of us try to imagine what will be based on what has been.

Predicting the weather is an impossible job.

Predicting a baseball season makes that look easy.

And so we’re left picking up the pieces as one of the fan favorite stalwart Nationals is headed for Oakland gold and green, trying to make sense of what happens when one of your favorite ballplayers will suit up for someone else next year. One of the brilliantly irrational, yet utterly human, parts of baseball is the fan relationship with a player. You have favorites on the diamond and at the plate, and it goes back to the littlest human kindness at a fan event, or an autograph before the game.

When I was 11, my favorite Oakland Athletic for about half the season was a call-up named Billy Beane. I remember he got some favorable press in the Sacramento Bee, and then at the next game I went to, he signed my glove because I went to find him. Beane played 37 games in that 1989 season, and he was left off the post-season roster, but man he was my guy for those games. I’d cheer like he was a starter, and a key part of that team, even though he was a bench guy only up for part of the time.

There will come a time when I will have to explain to my crying son that the team he loves has traded the player he loves to another city, and that that’s part of the game. I’m really not looking forward to that day. I know that many parents throughout Natstown are in similar situations tonight and trying to figure out what they can say to their child who just lost their favorite summertime friend, and I find myself at a loss for what to say in this circumstance.

Sometimes, trades make sense. They hurt a little, but you can look at the balance sheet and figure this makes the team better. I’m not sure this trade fits that bill. Yes, the Nationals have a deep bullpen, and will be able to slot in someone like Blake Treinen into the eighth inning slot, or move to a collaborative late-innings effort if the Heath Bell signing turns into something viable.

Yes, they have a need at second, and Escobar can fill that need, and be an option at short if they can’t come to terms with Desmond. However, I don’t see that Clippard was going to be anything less than their eighth inning man this year, in for another 70+ appearances. If we look at Escobar’s past performance defensively, though, he took a major step backward in 2014, turning in the worst UZR/150 season at shortstop since the stat was invented, and his off-field disrespect, it’s hard to come away feeling good about this particular trade.

But we don’t know.

And we can’t know for months.

And that makes it all the worse right now, as all we have to stare at are numbers on screens and highlight reels.

I can’t wrap this up without saying thank you to Tyler Clippard, who was always a joy to watch out of the bullpen, and to listen to after the game. He always had something thoughtful and genuine to say, something that wasn’t just a stack of cliches.

It is the most beautifully irrational and human part of baseball that makes us love players as individual parts of the team that we watch and live and die by, and in that spirit I know that many Nationals fans across our fair city are hurting as they read these words. They are looking up flights to Oakland, and considering a trip to the Coliseum to see him in his new white cleats and golden stirrups. We get attached to players because they’re people, not parts, and that attachment is something that gives us joy in the season. We watch our favorite players go out there every night and put their heart and body into the fire, and they get traded and moved around, because baseball isn’t just a pastime, it’s a multi-billion dollar business, and that’s the sort of thing that happens.

It doesn’t make it easy, and it doesn’t always work out, but these are the sort of the business decisions that have to get made in baseball. It doesn’t hurt matters for the Nationals’ payroll that Escobar’s contract is about half of what Clippard’s would be this year after arbitration, and $10M relievers aren’t the sort of line item that make it past many budgets in MLB. After last season’s commentary on budgets, and no positive movement in the MASN case before the courts, the team would need to find $13M in savings to return to 2014 levels, and that’s before the final results of nine arbitration hearings are known. Should those hearings all end in favor of the players, the Nationals would be searching for additional savings to return to 2014 levels.

Overall, the Nationals have given up their rock-solid eighth inning reliever in exchange for a lifetime .276 hitter who had a rough season on the diamond last year, and who has had disciplinary problems related to problem behavior off the field.

That’s the sort of trade I dread this time of the year.

Nationals trade RHP Clippard to Athletics for SS Yunel Escobar

According to multiple media reports, the Nationals have traded right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics for shortstop Yunel Escobar. This move was first reported on twitter by Jon Heyman of CBS, and has been confirmed by Bill Ladson of, and is now pending physicals. [Update: The Nationals have announced the deal in a press release excerpted below the break.]

Clippard, 29 this season, arrived in Washington from the New York Yankees in 2008 at the nadir of the Nationals franchise, and has been a towering force out of the bullpen since then. In 2011 and 2014, he would be the Nationals’ representative at the All-Star Game, and has been the 8th inning man for the Nationals for several seasons, averaging 70 appearances per season and amassing a 34-24 career recorded a 2.68 ERA. Clippard is in his final year of arbitration and was expected to claim between $8.5M and $10M this season.

Escobar, 32, arrives in Washington after a very short off-season stay in Oakland, having come from the Tampa Bay Rays organization. The Cuban-born shortstop has two years remaining on his contract and a third year under team control. Escobar is slated to earn $5M in 2015 and $7M in 2016. Primarily a shortstop, Escobar has played some games at 3B and 2B over his career, and would likely be a contender for the open 2B slot in the Nationals infield.

[Read more…]

Should Washington Nationals trade Tyler Clippard?

I usually stay out of the fray when it comes to the Hot Stove league. Generally, I’d rather comment on what happened rather than try to sift through all the noise that the click-baiters are trying to generate this time of year.

But one of the Washington Nationals biggest decisions — among several, I might add — is whether to seize a good opportunity to move a reliable, veteran player that is going to get expensive very quickly before he is eligible for free agency.

Not Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or Ian Desmond, though the same applies to all three.

No, obviously from the title of the article you know that I’m already talking about Tyler Clippard.

Clippard, 30 on opening day, is already getting bites from general managers across the league. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said on the radio the other day he’s already “penciled in” Drew Storen as closer for next season, which leaves Clippard as the main set-up guy again, a role he’s performed admirably the past six-plus seasons, including two all-star campaigns.

Clippard has shown no signs of slowing down, posting a 7-4 record, 2.18 ERA, 0.995 WHIP and 10.5/2.9 K/BB ration last season. In fact, it might have been his most impressive season, including his 32-save year of 2012.

But here’s the deal: desperate teams will dramatically overpay for a closer, and Clippard could fill that bill. He’s reliable, consistent and excellent. He’s also going to get very expensive for a set-up guy very quickly, but still have a quite reasonable salary for a closer.

Think that’s screwed up? Sure it is. But that’s how desperate teams think. To go out on the free agent market to acquire a veteran closer is a fool’s errand, and it’s prohibitively expensive. One needs to look no further than the two-year Rafael Soriano experiment here.

So smaller or mid-market teams looking for a veteran reliever that can close can do that on the trade market easier than outbid the bigger-market teams in free agency.

Clippard made $5.875 million last season and is 3rd year arbitration eligible, meaning this is his last arbitration before becoming a free agent at the age of 31 after the upcoming season. Considering his track record of excellence, two all-star noms and almost unprecedented reliability, Clippard will probably command $8 million-plus in arbitration this year.

Can the Nats afford to pay their set-up guy $8 million, and have any hope of re-signing Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond? Not to even mention looking down the road at Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.

Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family are going to have some bridges to cross in the next couple of seasons, and this is one of them. The team has plenty of arms currently in the bullpen and plenty more candidates where they came from. If Rizzo has proven one thing as GM, it’s that he loves stockpiling mid-level starter prospects with big arms and has had real good success turning them into reliable relievers.

Clippard was the first.

Despite the Lerner’s deep pockets, they aren’t limitless — at least when it comes to baseball finances. Rizzo might have to start to pick-and-choose on the players he retains and the players he moves to re-stock the cupboards.

Clippard might be that first hard choice this winter, even before Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond.

Washington Nationals Game 145 Review: Nats Strike Early, Hold Off Mets Late


Opening up a three-game series against the New York Mets in Queens, New York, the Washington Nationals got on the scoreboard early and held off the Mets late to take Game 1 of the series, 6-2.

The Nationals got things going early offensively. With Anthony Rendon (3-for-5, 2 RBI) on base with a single, Adam LaRoche (2-for-5, 3 RBI) took a two-out 3-2 pitch off the right field foul pole to give the Nationals an 2-0 lead. For LaRoche, it was his 24th homer of the year and 28th all-time against the Mets, the most homers he’s hit against any team throughout his career. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 142 Review: Nationals Out-Duel Braves in Victory


In front of 25,000-plus fans filled with “Natitude,” the Washington Nationals defeated the Atlanta Braves 2-1 to reduce their magic number to 12.

The Nationals gave Doug Fister an early run, and in return he gave them a seven-inning gem that earned him his 13th win of the year. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 133 Recap: Nats Blast Past Mariners


In their first trip back to Seattle since 2008, the Washington Nationals – powered by six homers – defeated the Mariners 8-3 to improve to 10-0 overall since 2005 against the A.L. West ball club.

The Nationals entered the game on a three-game skid and facing one of the league’s best pitchers in Felix Hernandez. On this night, however, Washington had the upper hand. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 128 Review: Nats Blow Past Giants, Win Series


In front of 35,000-plus at Nationals Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon for baseball, the Washington Nationals defeated the San Francisco Giants by a score of 14-6 to end their 10-game homestand. [Read more…]

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