Over the past month, the Washington Nationals have played the New York Yankees in a pair of two game series. Each time they played New York, the conversation that stemmed from that other (larger) media market inevitably turned towards a certain young Nats superstar and whether he'll sign with the Yankees when he's eligible for free agency. While all of that nonsense was going on, the Nationals once again plundered a system that has yielded a few cost efficient gems for them over the years: The Yankees.
With the Nats bullpen having struggled in front of closer Drew Storen all year, it was pretty well known that they were in the market for relief help. The Yankees happened to DFA David Carpenter in early June. Carpenter was off to a poor start in New York, but the 29-year-old right-hander was terrific working in a late inning leverage role for Atlanta the past couple of years. In 2013 and 2014, Carpenter compiled 31 Holds, a 2.63 ERA (2.88 FIP), and struck out 10.02 batters per 9 innings. Since being acquired on June 11, Carpenter has made four scoreless appearances for the Nats.
Using the Yankees as a pipeline to acquire relievers is nothing all that new for the Nats. It's an area where they've generally had a lot of success in recent years.
On August 5, 2014, the Nats acquired Matt Thornton with a waiver claim. I remain surprised to this day that the Yankees let him go for nothing. Thornton was signed through the 2015 season at $3.5 million, which is a bit pricey for a team that didn't really expect to contend this season and was out of the race last year. However, that's a pretty reasonable deal and Thornton's numbers in New York were actually pretty solid last season (2.55 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 7.30 K/9 in 24.2 innings). Thornton made an immediate impact on the Nats bullpen last season, adding a valuable late inning lefty as he threw 11.1 scoreless innings in August and September to help the Nats put the NL East away. He's been one of the few bright spots in the bullpen so far in 2015 with a 2.16 ERA and 2.87 FIP. If only he pitched more often...........
In 2013, the Nats acquired former Yankees reliever in Rafael Soriano, signing him to a 2 year, $28 million deal ($6 million of that is deferred). Soriano's time in D.C. may not be something that most in the fanbase look back fondly upon, but he actually had two pretty good seasons overall. In his two seasons with the Nats, Soriano had a 3.15 ERA and 3.38 FIP. His 1.3 fWAR in that span ranked third among Nats relievers behind Craig Stammen and the next player we'll bring up. He ranked slightly ahead of Drew Storen (1.2). While Soriano was paid to be the best reliever on the Nats, he certainly wasn't their top reliever. In a vacuum, he was a useful asset in the Nats bullpen for two seasons... even if he wasn't used as many Nats fans would have liked.
Thornton has been a great addition. Soriano was overpaid, but useful. However, the biggest impact arm that the Nats acquired from New York is the guy that so many Nats fans seem to want to reacquire right now... Tyler Clippard!
That's right. The Nats acquired Clippard from the Yankees in December of 2007 for Jonathan Albaladejo. At the time, Clippard was still a starter in the Yankees system. He'd actually made his debut in New York the previous summer going 3-1 with a 6.33 ERA (Umm... Yeah... pitcher wins matter?). The Nats kept him in that role for his first season in the organization, allowing him to make 27 starts in AAA Columbus and two with the parent club. In 2009, they shifted him to the bullpen in Syracuse.
Clippard dominated AAA in his first season working out of the bullpen with a 0.92 ERA in 39 innings before getting the call back up to the big club for good in late June. The rest is history. From 2009 through 2014, Clippard had a 2.64 ERA (3.40 FIP), a 1.03 WHIP, 34 Saves, 150 Holds, and 522 strikeouts in 453.2 IP. He led all Nats relievers with 6.2 fWAR in that span, nearly doubling (second place) Drew Storen's 3.5. Just like David Carpenter and Matt Thornton, Clippard was acquired for next to nothing from the Yankees.
Will Carpenter join this list of recent success stories that the Nats have acquired for a song from the Yankees? It remains to be seen. His performance within the NL East over the past couple of years certainly indicates that he could have some success in the Nats bullpen. The fact that he won't turn 30 until next month tells us that there's no reason to expect that age related decline is behind the mediocre first couple of months he had in New York. His velocity on both his fastball and slider has been right in line with what it was the past couple of years in Atlanta. The Yankees may have overreacted a bit to an 18 inning sample size and given the Nats another useful arm for peanuts.
Perhaps the biggest positive about Carpenter is that he's under club control through the 2017 season. You wouldn't think that relievers on club friendly deals who have averaged 0.9 WAR over the past two seasons would be so readily available. However, when they're with the Yankees, it seems that they are. It's nice of that team up in New York that often treats every other team in MLB as a farm team to continue to throw the Nats good relievers at a minimal cost.