Clippard talks contract, is sorry to see Jeter go

VIERA, Fla. - It was just four days ago that Tyler Clippard and the Nationals finally agreed to terms on a contract for 2014 after weeks of negotiations, a deal that will pay the right-handed reliever $5.875 million this season and avoid the need for arbitration.

Today, on his 29th birthday, Clippard strolled into the Nationals clubhouse, pleased to have the process done with and a set contract on paper before spring training gets going.

“I’m happy, man. I was glad it got done,” Clippard said. “The process, it drug out. It was stressing me out. I didn’t even think I could stress out over stuff, and I was stressing out over it. I’m just glad it got resolved and both sides are happy with how everything went down. And now we can just focus on playing the game, and that’s all I care about.”

Clippard had asked for $6.35 million for this season, while the Nats had countered at $4.45 million before the two sides were finally able to reach terms. The $5.875 million represents a significant raise over the $4 million that Clippard made last season, but when you look at how ridiculous his numbers were in 2013 - and over the last four years, really - it’d be hard to argue he isn’t worth the money.

During the negotiating process these last few weeks, Clippard said his agent and the Nats kicked around the idea of a multi-year deal, but those talks never came to fruition. In the days leading up to Monday’s agreement, the sides had been talking solely about a one-year deal, according to a source. The Nats currently control Clippard through the 2015 season.

“During those types of situations, you try to feel out all the different scenarios so everyone can feel happy,” Clippard said. “Those discussions (involving a multi-year deal), they happened. I wasn’t on the phone. It was my agent and them, and whether or not there was some validity to that, ... we were just trying to get a deal done that both sides were happy with.”

Switching gears quite a bit, Clippard reacted to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s decision to retire after this season, saying he understands Jeter’s desire to step away from the game given where he’s at in his career, but is disappointed to see his former teammate depart baseball.

“From a fan’s perspective and being a part of the game and a teammate and the whole thing, it’s gonna be sad to not have baseball with him in it,” said Clippard, who was with the Yankees organization from 2003-2007 and played that final year alongside Jeter in the big leagues. “It’s the end of an era and I think everyone realizes it, so it’s sad.”

Clippard works out at the same gym as Jeter during the offseason, so he doesn’t just know him as a teammate, he also knows the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer away from the diamond, as well.

“I’ve seen both sides of him. He’s unwavering, never changes,” Clippard said. “Great guy. He’ll talk to anybody without hesitation, and for a guy who is as famous as he is and is as big of a name as he is, to be as down to earth and humble and receiving of all types of people, it’s cool to watch. Somebody that, I’m never going to be on his level, but to emulate some of the things that he does in his life, I would like to try to do.”

Asked about his favorite memory of Jeter, Clippard went back to the first time he met the shortstop, back in Clippard’s early days in the Yankees organization when he was in the Gulf Coast League or rookie ball and came across Jeter at the Yankees’ spring complex.

“He was probably walking by and made eye contact with me and was like, ‘Hey man, nice to meet you. I’m Derek,’ ” Clippard said. ” ‘Yeah, I know. Tyler. Nice to meet you.’ And he talked to me for, it was probably like 30 seconds, but it seemed like 10 minutes. And that’s kinda what he does with everyone, and I think that’s kinda a special ... it’s something I’ll never forget. And he just kinda leaves his trail behind everywhere he goes. I don’t know if he does it on purpose or not, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

Clippard doesn’t usually remember the blow-by-blow account of his match-ups with particular hitters, sometimes just a big pitch in a big moment or a clutch strikeout. But he specifically remembers when he faced Jeter in June 2012 when the Yankees played at Nats Park.

“I wanted to have a little (something) to talk smack to him,” Clippard said. “I ended up striking him out, and I talked to him about the at-bat after the offseason and I don’t think he even remembered it. So that’s how significant it was for him.

“It was first and second, one out. I fell behind him 2-0 and I threw a changeup 2-0, and I thought the umpire called it a ball, but he called it a strike. So in my mind, it was 3-0, and the catcher called a changeup. And I’m like, ‘OK. Jeter. I mean, why not?’ So I threw a 3-0 changeup and I think it was a called strike. And I’m like, ‘OK. 3-1.’ And I threw a fastball a little up in the zone and he swung and missed at it. And he started walking back to the dugout and I’m like, ‘OK, I struck him out! What the heck happened there?’

“So that’s why I wanted to talk to him about it. He was like, ‘I don’t even remember.’ But that was one of the few times I didn’t hear the umpire call a strike, so I didn’t know the count. I just threw the pitch anyway, and it worked out.”

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