The big names in the headlines have been Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, but Washington Nationals' set-up man Tyler Clippard was also deemed "likely" to be dealt earlier this winter by at least one reporter.
Clippard, 29, and coming off another solid season in the Nats' bullpen, is one of the five key Nationals in his walk-year in 2015, so it's not too surprising that his name has come up in trade rumors.
The veteran right-hander told reporters on Saturday, however, that if it was up to him, he'd stay with the team that he's been with since late 2007. As Clippard explained it, a lot of his desire to say is tied to the support he's received from fans in the nation's capital.
"The fans in D.C., from my perspective, have been so supportive of me," Clippard said this past weekend at NatsFest, the yearly gathering of the Nationals and their fans.
"And, I think, a guy in my role, I’m not … I haven’t really been the closer for this team. I’ve been more of a set-up guy, middle relief-type pitcher. For the fans to take notice of what I’ve done is nice and I feel like a little bit unusual and they’ve been so supportive of me and a lot of fans today have said, ‘We want you. Don’t leave us. Stick around.’ And that support, it means a lot and is a big reason why I do want to stick around."
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier this month that for teams in the market for a closer, Clippard presents, "an attractive right-handed option on the trade market."
A source of Rosenthal's told him Clippard was "likely" to get dealt because the Nationals are, "... deep in right-handed relievers, and Clippard projects to earn $8 million to $9 million in his final year of arbitration before free agency."
Clippard, who saved 32 games for the Nationals in 2012 when closer Drew Storen was recovering from surgery, finished his eighth major league season in 2014 with a 2.18 ERA, a 2.75 FIP, 23 walks (2.94 BB/9) and 82 Ks (10.49 K/9) in 75 games and 70 ⅓ IP over which he was worth +1.5 fWAR.
He could close out games for any team in need of a ninth inning option, and he said this weekend that he'd like to be a closer again some day.
"I’ve said that from Day One," Clippard admitted. "Since before I think the day after I became a reliever, I wanted to close. I think that’s always been a goal of mine and I got a chance to do that in 2012, but I realize the importance of having a collective group. It can’t just be one guy in the ninth that’s going to make a good team or a good bullpen. So, I have perspective on that."
He'd also like the chance to win it all with the team that gave him the opportunity to become what he has in his major league career.
"This organization, for me, has been the team I have been with in the big leagues," Clippard said.
"The only team, essentially. I spent two months with the Yankees, but that was a very small body of work. The curly-W is the uniform I’ve always worn. These guys are my family."
"These are the guys I want to go to battle with," Clippard continued. "Saying that, it’s a business and I understand all aspects of it, like I said before. It’s one of those things, yeah, I would like to stay here, but you can’t control that stuff. You’ve got to worry about what you’re doing and hopefully it plays out like that. I want to be here, so, we’ll see."
Clippard has heard the rumors before and as he explained, doesn't allow himself to worry too much about the chatter.
"I don’t really try to look into it too much," Clippard said.
"Obviously, the trade stuff is part of the game. I understand the business side of it and where everybody’s coming from. For me, just go about my business in the offseason, try to relax and enjoy my friends and my family and not really worry about it too much. I’m such a guy, day-to-day type person, and try to stay in that little bubble of my comfort zone back home and not really worry about the outside stuff too much."
Heading towards what could be his last season in D.C. if he's allowed to hit free agency, Clippard said he wasn't feeling any more pressure than usual to win it all with the group he's grown up with in the majors.
"Every year’s pressure," Clippard explained.
"Every year you want to win a championship. We know we have the club to do that and we feel very confident in our abilities. We’re just going to see how things play out. Everything can change overnight with injuries and trades and all the stuff that people talk about. From a player’s standpoint, we have the luxury of not worrying about stuff. We just got to go out there, stay healthy, perform and hopefully the cards fall our way and we do well."
After that? Clippard and the Nationals avoided arbitration and agreed on a 1-year/$5.875M deal last winter, he's due around $9M this winter, and if he's allowed to become a free agent, he'll be entering a market that has been rewarding relievers with big deals this winter.
"I think that’s kind of the transition and where baseball’s going," Clippard said. "I think everybody realized how valuable it was for the Royals to have that seventh, eighth, and ninth-inning punch they had in the postseason and how valuable that was.
"It’s all about high-leverage innings. You can take saves or holds or however you want to calculate it statistically, but when you’re in those games and the game’s on the line… I remember multiple times throughout the season in the seventh inning when Drew’s pitching the seventh, pretty much winning us the game by getting out of big situations and just setting me and [Rafael] Soriano up for clean innings in the eighth and the ninth. Those things, people don’t talk about that that much, but those are important innings. Any high-leverage situation you get out there, whether it’s sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and I’ve said it my whole career, it doesn’t really matter to us, we’re just happy to be in there in those big spots."
Clippard's success in those spots has set him up for a big payday this season and when/if he hits free agency. It's also made him a target for teams looking to trade for a reliable late-inning option.
Will he be in D.C. on Opening Day?