In an appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant and Danny Show last winter, Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged that it would be tough to replace veteran reliever Tyler Clippard at the back end of the Nats' bullpen after they traded one year of control of the right-hander to the Oakland A's for two-plus years of veteran infielder Yunel Escobar.
"It's going to be difficult to fill Tyler Clippard's performance in the eighth inning," Rizzo said.
"But we certainly have candidates to back-fill the bullpen and power arms to get the opportunity to pitch later, more leverage innings during the game."
"Bullpens are built each and every year," he continued. "Tyler Clippard got an opportunity years back to prove what he could do and we're talking about him as one of the best eighth-inning relievers in baseball."
In offering his own assessment of what went wrong in 2015, in an MLB Network Radio interview this winter, now-former Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty said they never did find a reliable replacement for Clippard and injuries to relievers were a big issue as well.
"We weren't able to get settled down after trading Clippard," McCatty said. "Getting [Casey] Janssen to come in -- and then out of Spring Training he was hurt for the first month and a half and then we had [Craig] Stammen get hurt within the first two weeks, so that was a big blow to the bullpen and we were never able to get that seventh and eighth inning spot to be on a consistent basis."
Stammen, 31, suffered a torn flexor tendon in his right arm which required season-ending surgery.
When they had to make a decision on whether not to bring Stammen, who earned $2.25M and was projected to earn $2.4M this season, back for 2016, the Nats non-tendered the seven-year veteran, parting ways with the '05 12th Round pick.
"Craig’s been a great competitor for us for years, but the fact with the price tag what it was, knowing he was just starting to throw, unsure of where his health was going to be in Spring Training was the reason we non-tendered him," Rizzo told reporters, including Washington Post writer James Wagner.
Fans in the nation's capital hoping that the Nationals might bring Clippard back to help out in the late innings or bring Stammen back to handle the long relief role in D.C. were dealt blows this afternoon.
Clippard, who pitched for the Oakland A's and was traded to the NL East Champion New York Mets at the non-waiver deadline last July, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are reportedly making progress on a deal:
A source said Monday @Dbacks have made progress toward a deal with free-agent reliever Tyler Clippard. @nickpiecoro: https://t.co/GrpSj75mBD— azcentral sports (@azcsports) February 8, 2016
And the Cleveland Indians made their minor league deal with Stammen, a Versailles, Ohio-native, official this afternoon as well:
We've inked Ohio native and former National @cstammen35 to a minor league deal w/a Spring invite. pic.twitter.com/rPFU0wX0yC— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) February 8, 2016
The Nationals signed a number of free agent relievers including Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit and Shawn Kelley and they traded for hard-throwing young right-hander Trevor Gott in a Clippard-for-Escobar-ish deal that sent Escobar to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Will the rebuilt bullpen work out better for the Nationals this season?