Tyler Clippard is a wanted man.
Nearly any time you hear about a playoff-bound team speaking with the Nationals about a potential trade, the availability of Clippard is almost always one of the first questions asked. And why wouldn't they? Over the past three years, and especially this season, he has been a lights-out reliever who gets it done in high-pressure situations and has a propensity for the all-important strikeout.
This season, Clippard has a league-leading 16 holds with a 1.86 ERA. He ranks sixth in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings with 11.17, and has a lower ratio of walks per nine innings than the five players ahead of him. Among National League relievers, he's had the second-best left-on-base percentage, with 96 percent, and leads major league relievers in strikeouts with 48.
He's been lights out, he's been a force, and his ability to shut down the seventh and eighth innings has helped the Nationals win games.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, there are several teams who currently have bullpen woes who may be inquiring about a potential deal with Washington. Those two teams specifically would be the New York Yankees, who just lost Joba Chamberlain to Tommy John surgery, and the Philadelphia Phillies, who have struggled to get Brad Lidge back on the field.
As we saw in 2010, the right bullpen hand can bring in a strong return in a
trade. Last season, the Nationals traded Matt Capps for a young Wilson Ramos, who is now the Nationals' catcher of the future, and Clippard has been far better than Capps ever was. The prospect of landing another great young player in return for a reliever is surely promising, but the Nationals have to start considering whether it's worth it to trade away pieces of the puzzle that help you win now, because it wont be long before they will be needed to contend for the playoffs.
Given the ineptitude of the club's offense this season, Clippard could be arguably the team's most valuable player. The Nationals are constantly in one-, two- and three-run games, and after a starter gets himself into trouble later in the game, it's Clippard who comes in and cleans up the mess. When the Nationals do have a lead, you can rely on him to help hold it.
The real question is, how important is having a guy like that now, versus having a player who can help the team to a greater extent in the long term? Right now, if the Nationals blow a lead late in the game, it is devastating, but it doesn't matter in the big scheme of things because this team can't compete for the playoffs. Clippard is a great weapon, for sure, but is he worth holding onto?
Guys like Clippard have a relatively short shelf life, so it seems like the decision needs to come down to whether or not the Nationals can compete next year. With the return of Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, the potential arrival of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, and the possibility of signing other free agents, a lot of people in Washington think they have a shot. If they do, there is no sense trading Clippard unless you can get a mega-prospect in return.
A potential future combination of Clippard, Henry Rodriguez and Drew Storen could be lights out late in games for the Nats next year if they are battling for the Wild Card or the division.
Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.